Sunday, 9 August 2020

Harvey's rarely disappoints - and neither does the White Hart!

I enjoyed a pint of Harvey’s today, my first since lock-down, and boy was it good. I’d been hankering after some Sussex Best since the pubs re-opened, but all the pubs I’ve been in until today weren’t stocking the beer.

Harvey’s Sussex Best is not only one of my favourite beers; I happen to think it is one of the finest traditional ales brewed in these islands. With a base of rich, biscuity malt, complemented by just the right amount of bitterness from a blend of locally grown hop varieties, Harvey’s Best is rightly described as the embodiment of Sussex.

Despite the beer being widely distributed throughout East Sussex and West Kent, I’ve had quite a job recently in tracking it down; until today. Fancying a drive out, I’d booked a table for three, for Saturday lunchtime, at the White Hart, Newenden. The idea had been for us to do a spot of shopping at Jempson’s independent superstore at Peasmarsh, before stopping off at the pub on the way home.

Little did I realise quite how hot the weekend was going to turn out. I also ran into a spot of car trouble. The latter was easily solved by son Matthew adding me as a named driver to his insurance policy, which now allows me to drive his car. I was quite taken aback by this kind-hearted gesture, but it does now give Mrs PBT’s and I access to a second set of wheels.

The other drawback to my plan was the hot weather itself because, as my dear lady wife pointed out, there was no way in which we’d be able to leave any food shopping in the back of the car, whilst we were at the pub. We decided that the shopping wasn’t essential, and we would just go for lunch instead, until Mrs PBT’s, ever the contrary one, decided it would be just too hot for her.

She didn’t want to sit in the pub garden, but equally didn’t want to be inside – something about a virus that, providing the right precautions are taken, you’ve got very little chance of falling victim to. You and Matthew go, she said, I’m quite happy sitting at home in the cool.

So that’s what we did, but still took Matthew’s car. The air-conditioning needs re-gassing on mine and I’ve also had issues with the electric windows and indicators.  An intermittent electrical fault, which will be looked at by an auto specialist on Wednesday. The air-con will also be re-charged. 

We set off just after 12.30pm, with temperatures already in the thirties. I’ve only driven a handful of automatic cars, but I soon got the hang of Matthew’s one. In view of the record-braking temperatures, and the expected mass exodus to the coast, I took us along a more rural route, which took us through Benchley, Horsmonden and the edge of Goudhurst, before joining with the main Rye-Hastings road at Hawkhurst. 

We arrived three-quarters of an hour early at Newenden, so went and had a look at nearby Northiam station, on the opposite bank of the River Rother. Northiam is the penultimate stop on the Kent & East Sussex heritage railway, and whilst a pre-booked service was operating, we saw no signs of any trains. We drove back to the pub, thinking the management wouldn’t mind if we were early, and fortunately we were right. 

I’d already checked out the White Hart’s Corona-related safety measures online, and judged them to be more than adequate, so after the following the designated one-way system we entered via the front-door, sanitised our hands and presented ourselves at the bar. Our early arrival was no problem and we would find a table, with out name on it, in the large garden at the rear. We could order our drinks at the bar first, and then come back in, again following the one-way system to order our food. 

I’d already spotted the Harvey’s handpump on the bar, bit there were also a couple of beers from Rother Valley – highly appropriate, plus another local beer from Romney Marsh Brewery. It was a pint of Sussex Best for me, plus a pint of Estrella Dam for Matthew. 

We found our way out to the garden, and our pre-booked table, but judging by the number of empty spaces, there appeared no real need to book. This was shortly after 2pm, so perhaps the main lunchtime rush was already over. We’d already looked at the menu online and had both decided on cod and chips. Matthew had already noticed the waitress carrying some out to another table, so Moby and chips it was! 

Before ordering I took a few mouthfuls of the delectable pint of Harvey’s in front of me. It was pure nectar, and almost worth four month’s wait. Cool, refreshing and well-conditioned it was everything I’d expected, and more! As I was driving, I couldn’t have another, and had I been scoring it would have come out as a 3.0 – 3.5 NBSS. 

Our food arrived soon after, freshly fried cod in a crispy batter, with hand-cut chunky chips. This hearty fare represented our first pub meal, and indeed first hot food, served away from home, since the start of lock-down. This was fish and chips at its best, and both tasted every bit as good as they look in the photo.

Like many establishments up and down the country, the White Hart is participating in the chancellor’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme, as proclaimed by the “A” board outside the pub. I’m tempted to take a mid-week trip down to Newenden, this time including Mrs PBT’s, even if it does involve a fifty-mile round trip.

Matthew got a round in before we left; a small lime and soda for me, and another pint of Estrella for him. It was good to see the White Hart re-opened and starting to do OK, after four months of closure, but it’s interesting to note that this was only my second visit to the pub, despite having driven past countless times.

I informed Matthew that this was his second visit as well. “What do you mean?” he said, “I’ve never been here before.” I told him he had, but that he was unlikely to remember the occasion. The reason for this was that Eileen and I called in one autumn day, for a quick drink and look around. She was carrying Matthew at the time and was seven or eight months pregnant. Little did we think at the time, that our unborn child would be returning there 29 years later as a fully grown man!

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Something different for a change

They say a change is as good as a rest, and I’m sure they are right – whoever “they” might be, so last Sunday I swapped the glass of beer I usually enjoy with my dinner, for something a bit different.

Sunday’s choice was a bottle of vintage perry that I bought a few weeks ago in Waitrose. It was on special offer, otherwise I might not have bought it, but even if it hadn’t been reduced in price, it still represented value for money. More to the point, it turned out to be an excellent drink.

For some reason I’ve always been a little wary of both traditional cider and perry. It’s a lot to do with the strength of these drinks; perceived or actual, but my uneasiness goes back much further than that. I’ll explain exactly why in a subsequent post, but for the moment, I’m pleased to report that I really enjoyed my bottle of perry the other day.

Brewed in partnership with the renowned and long-standing cider maker, H. Weston & Sons, Waitrose’s No. 1 English Vintage Perry is produced with 100% freshly pressed pear juice obtained from a single year’s harvest – hence the name “vintage.” The juice is then matured in old oak vats, to bring out all the complex pear flavours. The result, a refreshing and lightly sparkling perry which, despite weighing in at 8% abv, is a very quaffable and easy to drink beverage and just the right accompaniment for a roast pork dinner.

Now I have had the odd glass of perry before, but from memory it was rather dry, cloudy and overall, on the rough side, so this Waitrose/Weston’s collaboration was quite an eye opener. I shall certainly be looking out for more and will be giving other brands of perry a try as well, especially as the drink is said to possess flavours that are typically more delicate than cider. 

Perry is also reputed to be harder to make than cider, which might explain the relative rarity of traditional perry.  Whatever the case, last weekend’s bottle certainly made an interesting change from my normal beer.

There was only one drawback; although the Waitrose perry didn’t taste that alcoholic, its 8.0% abv strength could very easily, catch you out – especially after a couple of bottles!

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Meddling Medley's threat to pubs

The news that the government’s scientific advisors are considering the re-imposition of restrictions on pubs and restaurants, as some sort of a trade-off between the full re-opening of schools in England, has taken many commentators by surprise. The story, which featured in both the Guardian and the Telegraph, will send shockwaves through a hospitality sector already stricken by over three months of enforced closure, and comes at a time when the licensed and restaurant trades are slowly getting back on their feet.

Unfortunately, it is yet another example of the media-induced, mass-hysteria surrounding Coronavirus and demonstrates how our hard-won freedoms and liberties are being eroded by the increasingly powerful “Nanny state” in the guise of Public Health England.

Professor Graham Medley, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), has suggested that because of recent increases in Coronavirus infections, it might come down to prioritising which areas of public life we should keep open and which should be closed. Medley claimed that the re-opening of schools might come down to a trade-off involving the closure of another sector and then went on to ask, “Do we think pubs are more important than schools?” 

Well apart from telling this self-appointed “expert” to go forth and multiply, I know what my answer to this question would be, and I imagine there are tens of thousands out there who would agree with me. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Johnson appears to be backing his SAGE committee, stating, “Getting pupils back into the classroom was a national priority, while other freedoms were ‘conditional’.”

Now I’m not sure I heard that right, but these are dangerous words for the leader of a supposedly free and democratic country to be uttering. They smack of dictatorship, wrapped up in the guise of “Nanny knows best,” and bring with them shades of 1984 and “Big Brother.

I’m also concerned over the increasingly emotional arguments being used to justify these curbs on our liberties, and the effect the continuing closures of certain sectors is having on our already fragile and damaged economy. 

To argue that the education of the “cheeldren” should take preference over other key sectors of the economy, is the exactly the same spurious argument that the life of a police officer is somehow worth more than  that of an ordinary member of the public. These example illustrate how, regardless of the facts, emotion is often used as a foil against cold, level-headed logic.

Instead, the question must be, will the nation accept another lock-down, especially when they can see no real light at the end of the tunnel? Populations all over the world are becoming increasingly restless over restrictions imposed in the name of public health.  Earlier today, in Germany, a demonstration in Berlin against the wearing of masks attracted an estimated crowd of 20,000 protestors, and this is in a country where people are normally renowned for their adherence to the rules.

The subject of masks has also sparked fierce debate, here in the UK, with the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation openly criticising the government over what is seen increasingly as "making up policy on the hoof." The PM’s expectation that already over-stretched police forces should  enforce the mandatory wearing of masks in retail outlets, is one area where the government has failed to provide clarity, as is the late night announcement of the new restrictions affecting certain parts of the Yorkshire and the North West. Local businesses, and also the police were given very little time to prepare for these changes, or to decide how they should be monitored and enforced. 

This comes on top of the requirement for all travellers returning from Spain, to self-isolate for 14 days; yet another policy that was brought in at extremely short notice.

Many people I have spoken to are also becoming increasingly angry over the government’s muddle-headed approach, and this latest piece of nonsense over pubs, from “Meddling Medley,” will only serve to inflame what is an already tense situation.