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 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.
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.
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.
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?