Saturday, 16 December 2017

Hungry for a horse!

Thursday evening, in what was a first for me, I visited a “Hungry Horse”. The latter is a nationwide chain of 225 pub-restaurants, owned by Greene King of Bury St Edmunds. It was founded in 1995, and promotes itself as offering low cost meals for families and groups.

There are only a handful of Hungry Horse establishments in Kent, but the nearest is now only around 15 minutes drive away, thanks to the completion recently of the road improvements to the A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury.

The Hungry Horse pub in question is the Robin Hood, a large estate pub to the east of Tunbridge Wells town centre, and the other side of the rail tracks from the suburb known as High Brooms. It is a former Whitbread pub which was quite well known to me during the later 1980’s, when I worked on the nearby North Farm Estate.

The company I worked for at the time, used the Robin Hood quite regularly, taking advantage of the pub’s function room which they would hire for presentations or meetings; and one year it even hosted our Christmas party as well. It was a pleasant enough place which at the time I was familiar with it, sold a very acceptable pint of Fremlin’s Bitter, but when work took me  elsewhere, I rather lost touch with it.

The pub was built at the end of the Edwardian era and started life as a private residence. It became a public house in 1971, and was named the Robin Hood because of its proximity to the Sherwood housing estate. The latter estate has had a bad reputation amongst Tunbridge Wells residents over the years; somewhat unfairly in my book, but I suppose every town has its less salubrious side, which locals will look down their noses at.

After Whitbread stopped being a brewer and started running coffee shops instead, the Robin Hood passed into the hands of Enterprise Inns, and in 2007 a major refurbishment of the premises was carried out. It was all the more surprising then when, just six years later, Enterprise closed the pub and put it up for sale. This was where Greene King stepped in and rescued the pub, converting it into a Hungry Horse in the process.

Back in the late summer of 2013, I wrote about how another nearby pub had been given a new lease of life after somewhat ironically being closed by Greene King. At the end of my article about the Brick Works pub in High Brooms, I hinted that another local pub was due to re-open, but this time GK were the saviour, rather than the villain.

I deliberately didn’t name the pub, as I said I wanted to visit the place first, and see the developments and changes for myself, before writing about them, and also revealing the pub which was, of course, the Robin Hood. Little did I think it would be over four years until I managed a visit.

That opportunity came on Thursday evening, when my son and I were over at the North Farm Retail Park. After spending rather a long time in PC World, looking at new laptops, we were both feeling hungry and keen to find somewhere to eat. Matthew had over-dosed rather on MacDonald’s during the week, and didn’t fancy a KFC either. It was his suggestion to try the Hungry Horse a.k.a. the Robin Hood.

The car park seemed pretty full when we arrived, but we managed to find a space in the over-flow area. We entered towards the rear of the pub, close to the section which formerly housed the function room. It seemed strange stepping back inside after a gap of almost 25 years, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

The former high ceiling had been replaced by a lower, false one, and the open plan layout had been divided up into a several separate areas, creating a much more comfortable and cosy feel to the place. As both of us were strangers to the Hungry Horse concept, we took a little time perusing the menu, but soon realised that the offering was quite similar to Wetherspoon’s.

There are deals available which are day specific ( “Big Plate Specials” on Tuesday Curry on Wednesday, free dessert on Thursday). The option we selected was the burger one, which is available Monday to Friday and allows customers to add a drink to any burger selection for just £1. The choice was little limited of course, I had a pint of GK IPA, whilst Matthew chose a pint of Carlsberg. 

As with Spoons, we ordered at the bar, both choosing the “Pit Burger” option (a beef burger topped with smoked streaky bacon, cheese and slow cooked BBQ pulled pork rib meat).  The food arrived quickly, was piping hot and nicely presented; although Matthew wasn’t keen on the chips being stuffed into a small metal bucket. For the princely sum of just under £9 each, it was a good deal all round.

The pub was less busier than the car park suggested, although its Tardis-like interior seemed capable of accommodating lots of people without appearing over-crowded. We were both pleasantly surprised, and whilst my pint of IPA wasn’t exactly over-flowing with character, it was still well-kept and in good condition.

The verdict is that we will definitely return, and next time bring Mrs PBT’s along with us. She was out with a group of her girly mates that evening, trying out the Rose Revived, a lovely old pub on the edge of Hadlow which has recently received a full re-vamp and revert to its original name.

I collected her and a couple of her friends just before closing time, so was able to see for myself the work that had been done. The Rose looks well worthy of a return visit and Eileen and her friends were singing the praises of the food there as well.

So with a budget price “fill your boots” establishment and a tastefully renovated 400 year old inn for the Bailey family to visit, what's not to like?


Russtovich said...

"although its Tardis-like interior seemed capable of accommodating lots of people without appearing over-crowded."

Okay, that made me chuckle. :)

I like the fact you have wet led pubs, as well as inexpensive (and more upscale) eateries (okay, we have those over here of course!). If you were taking Mrs PBT out for a 'nice' dinner it probably wouldn't be there; but it's just the place with one of your progeny. :)

Over here the only wet led places would be micropubs. And I still can't get over the fact you order at the bar. Over here that would be sitting at the bar only. It's table service (even for drinks) wherever you sit (again, not at a micropub).


PS - “fill your boots”

We say that over here (or at least I do - maybe it's my British heritage?). Funnily enough I was discussing that with my better half a few days ago, wondering where it originated.

Martin Taylor said...

Nice post on a chain that rarely gets mentioned but are some people's main pub (as with Spoons).

I find Hungry Horses quite lively and beer prices attract a fairvfew locals.

Paul Bailey said...

Russ, the UK is probably the exception to the the rest of the world when it comes to ordering drinks. To me, it is a far more sensible arrangement to pay at the bar and also to pay for each round of drinks, as they are served.

The number of times I've sat at a table in a European bar, wanting to pay, but finding that the waiter/waitress has disappeared. If I'm in a hurry I now ask to pay as soon as the drinks are brought to my table; especially if I'm only stopping for one.

As for drinking establishments, well it's horses for courses, if you'll pardon the pun. For a nice romantic dinner date, then a lovely old pub like the Rose Revived wins hands down, but if we're out shopping and fancy something cheap and cheerful then the Hungry Horse would feature in our plans.

As I said in the post Marin, I was pleasantly surprised by my first visit to a Hungry Horse. There were a fair few drinkers in the Robin Hood, the other night, including a couple of blokes drinking bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale.

Ian Clarkson said...

Nice to see a Chain pub getting praise for decent beer and a decent atmosphere 👍 a refreshing post