Taking on an empty pub and turning it into a thriving, village hub was the goal for Dane Allchorne – and he succeeded.
Just witnessing the number of regulars popping in for a drink in the bar of The Milk House on a Monday afternoon, it’s clear it’s the hub of the village.
But two years ago, it stood on The Street in Sissinghurst, empty and desolate.
It took Dane Allchorne and his wife Sarah to pump plenty of investment, enthusiasm and ideas back into the 16th-century building, formerly The Bull, to turn it around.
The result is a tastefully decorated pub, with four rooms above, a bar and restaurant, and outdoor terrace with a pizza oven in the summer, run with 58 full and part-time staff who are all local, including seven chefs.
For New Zealander Dane, who has worked for clients all around the world, it was a first business venture.
“We drove past the place and saw it was empty and thought ‘What’s going on there?’” said Dane.
“We could see it was in an ideal location. I’d done some pop-ups and consulting and it gave me the enthusiasm to start this business and take that leap of faith.”
There was a lot of hard graft to be done on the interior and exterior, before even starting on the menus, but eventually the endless hours of hard work paid off
The food now also comes from a majority of local suppliers. There is, of course, classic pub fare, along with a light grazing menu and a seasonal dining menu.
Dane aims for good English food but with some international influences.
“I like to do things a bit differently,” he said.
“For instance, there was such a demand for cheesy chips. So we do chunky chips with a cheese fondue. We are a little bit quirky and a little bit different. We want to be leading rather than following.”
Dishes range from Primavera risotto balls with purple pesto cream or baby chorizo sausages with a white bean and lemon humus for £5 on the grazing menu to lemon-roasted spatchcock poussin with minted Jersey royals, purple sprouting broccoli and a porcini butter for £16. There’s also courgette, feta and freekah fritters with baby watercress and a sumac and tahini dressing for £14 on the dining menu.
Kids aren’t forgotten and there’s plenty to tempt young taste buds, including their own pizza menu – presented in the shape of pizza.
There are also plans for a children’s play area.
You can discover The Milk House at The Street, Sissinghurst TN17 2JG. For more details, call 01580 720200 or visit themilkhouse.co.uk
The pub also hosts live music and holds events. It will be holding a charity auction in November, selling all the artwork by local artists that has been featured on its walls.
CRAB & CRAYFISH WITH AN AVOCADO & GREEN APPLE SALAD AND LEMON CRÈME FRAICHE
“This is one of my favourite dishes – it’s packed with fresh flavours and great ingredients and it’s pretty on the plate," said Dane. "Any good fishmonger will be able to sell you picked crab meat and peeled and cooked crayfish tails – we get ours from South Coast fish. As well as being an excellent low-calorie source of protein, crayfish are full of brain-boosting Omega3 fatty acids.”
150g white Cornish crab meat
100g freshwater crayfish tails
½ green Kentish apple
10g crème fraiche
2 tbsp fresh chives
2 tbsp fresh dill
Sea salt and black pepper
1. Pick the crab meat to check for shell and drain the crayfish tails, if necessary.
2. Combine the crab meat and crayfish tails in a bowl, using the mayonnaise to bind.
3. Gently incorporate the zest of ½ lemon, 1 tbsp chopped chives, 1tbsp chopped dill and season to taste.
4. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it in the fridge to chill.
5. Dice the avocado into small cubes and add a touch of salt and pepper with the juice of 1 lemon to keep the colour.
6. In a separate bowl, fold the zest of ½ lemon into the crème fraiche with a drizzle of lemon oil and a pinch of chopped chives and dill.
7. Fill an 8-10cm diameter ring mold ¾ with the crab and crayfish mix, then fill the mold to the brim with the avocado. Place in the fridge for 20-30mins.
8. Julienne or grate half a cored green apple and mix with the remaining herbs.
9. Grab four plates and gently remove the ring molds from the crab and crayfish. Garnish with the apple and dress the plate with herby crème fraiche and a generous drizzle of lemon oil.