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Secret Drinker reviews the Royal Oak pub in Tunbridge Wells


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They do say, don’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve passed this pub, just outside the centre of Tunbridge Wells, many times but never managed to get through the door.

The Royal Oak, right on a corner of Prospect Road, is clearly visible when you’re stopped at the lights opposite and I’ve often wondered what it might be like inside.

I’ve driven past the Royal Oak, on Prospect Road in Tunbridge Wells, many times but finally got the chance to pay a proper visit last Saturday
I’ve driven past the Royal Oak, on Prospect Road in Tunbridge Wells, many times but finally got the chance to pay a proper visit last Saturday

For some reason I’d convinced myself it would be an incredibly posh pub, full of dark wood panelling, with horse brasses festooned on every wall with ageing, tweed-clad regulars discussing shooting weekends and house prices.

This myth was dispelled within 30 seconds of pulling into the car park when I was politely, but firmly, asked by a pub chef to shift my car to make room for the pizza van which would arrive shortly.

Pizza Cucina, with its wood-fired oven, is a regular visitor to the Royal Oak and can be found here every Friday and Saturday between 5 and 9pm
Pizza Cucina, with its wood-fired oven, is a regular visitor to the Royal Oak and can be found here every Friday and Saturday between 5 and 9pm

Dutifully re-parking before heading towards the bar for a second time I was briefly thwarted again when I was surrounded by a group of celebrating footie players hell bent on sharing details of their victory earlier that afternoon.

I’m delighted to report the Royal Oak XI won its second semi-final of three this season after their keeper saved a penalty in extra time. And, if they do end up winning a final, several of them have already committed to adopting Phil Foden-style hair dos.

Having finally made it inside the pub the impressively bearded barman soon had a pint of Tonbridge Blond Ambition poured and the remainder of my misconceptions about the place dissolved. Not only is there nothing snobby about this pub, it’s actually a real down-to-earth boozer which seems to operate as something of a community hub – in fact, the only thing I’d got right was the dark wood panelling, which is just about everywhere.

As a free house, The Royal Oak is able to feature a whole variety of different beers and lagers. Jupa, from The Five Points Brewing Company, is a powerful pale ale
As a free house, The Royal Oak is able to feature a whole variety of different beers and lagers. Jupa, from The Five Points Brewing Company, is a powerful pale ale
At the barman’s recommendation I selected a pint of Blond Ambition from the Tonbridge Brewery. A fresh, crisp lighter coloured ale with plenty of flavour
At the barman’s recommendation I selected a pint of Blond Ambition from the Tonbridge Brewery. A fresh, crisp lighter coloured ale with plenty of flavour

My very tasty pint was slipping down extremely easily and before I’d polished off my first bag of trendy crisps I was joined by another group of footballers. Though apparently Hawkenbury FC hadn’t performed as well as the pub team and one poor soul, who’d unfortunately seen red earlier in the day, was now wearing an orange apron and similarly coloured wig as a forfeit.

There is a large, dominant, central bar, open on all four sides and the taped walkways, put in place for Covid, are still very much in evidence on the highly patterned carpet.

The one thing I predicted correctly – the pub has a wealth of dark wood panelling
The one thing I predicted correctly – the pub has a wealth of dark wood panelling
Sunday roasts are served between noon and 4pm
Sunday roasts are served between noon and 4pm

Despite the visiting pizza van there is a varied menu featuring a number of pub grub favourites - burgers, Paninis, fries and, of course, Sunday roasts.

I saw no sign of a pool table and couldn’t spot a dartboard but when I walked round the far side of the bar I did come across a bar billiards table. Regular readers will know I’m a fan of this old fashioned game and although I resisted the urge to play on this occasion I was particularly taken with its red baize and unusual light.

A great pub game – bar billiards might is as traditional as it gets but the light and red baize are a bit different
A great pub game – bar billiards might is as traditional as it gets but the light and red baize are a bit different
I’m not sure how often the Oak’s ivories are tickled, but the pub is certainly proud of its live music nights
I’m not sure how often the Oak’s ivories are tickled, but the pub is certainly proud of its live music nights

And, just beyond the bar billiards I found a couple of interesting old fellas enjoying a pint with man’s best friends comfortably settled under their table. Yes, dogs are clearly not only welcome here but actively encouraged.

So, in summary, I can report that despite my misplaced pre-judgements I discovered a family-run pub with a history stretching back many centuries. The Royal Oak is proud to supply locals with a regularly updated selection of excellent cask ales. Sitting right on the outskirts of the town, it also hosts live music nights and regularly holds speed quiz nights (£2 per person). And, although there was a good deal of wood panelling I didn’t find anyone in a tweed suit or discover how exorbitant the house prices are just a stone’s throw from this excellent community pub.

The Royal Oak, 92 Prospect Road, Tunbridge Wells TN2 4SY

Decor: The one thing I predicted correctly was the dark brown wood panelling which dominates the place and it is very traditional throughout, but it was comfortable and welcoming. ***

Drink: The Tonbridge 4.2 per cent Blond Ambition was my favourite pint, sharp and refreshing from the first sip it delivered plenty of flavour. The Jupa Juicy Pale Ale, from Five Points Brewery, is an altogether more powerful beast at 5.5 per cent with lemon aplenty. An excellent selection of drinks on offer. ****

Price: A pint of Juicy Pale Ale (Jupa Brewery) and two packets of salt and vinegar crisps will cost you £9.70. The Tonbridge Blond Ambition and a coke was £7.40. ***

Staff: Efficient and knowledgeable, the no-nonsense barman was friendly, welcoming and very comfortable recommending the best beer. ****

With a slightly cloudier appearance, Jupa Juicy Pale Ale packs a punch at 5.5 per cent
With a slightly cloudier appearance, Jupa Juicy Pale Ale packs a punch at 5.5 per cent
There are plenty of tables at the front of the pub but despite the afternoon sunshine no-one was taking advantage while I was in
There are plenty of tables at the front of the pub but despite the afternoon sunshine no-one was taking advantage while I was in

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