Tuesday 31 December 2019

Ring out the old

I’m still working on my review of 2019. I keep thinking of things to add to it; a task not made easier by the return of the “man flu,” which came back with a real vengeance the day before yesterday. All joking aside, I did at one point feel like it might be actual flu, rather than just a particularly nasty cold, but that would have meant a scolding from Mrs PBT’s, telling me I should have followed her example, and gone for the flu vaccination!

I think it’s a well-known fact that when we slow down, after working flat out for much of the year, our bodies don’t always react as we think they should. So rather than be appreciative of the chance of a rest, our immune systems end up being strangely vulnerable to various infections that might be doing the rounds.

The strange thing is I haven’t actually been anywhere to have succumbed to one of these viruses; unlike the last one that caught hold of me. That happened on the second leg of the flight back from China when, after landing at Doha and waiting to change planes, the cold I’d been incubating since leaving Guangzhou, really started coming out.

At first I’d put the sore throat and blocked sinuses down to the appalling air quality in the city, but once onboard that homebound flight to Gatwick, it was pretty obvious this was something more familiar, and definitely unwanted.  Guangzhou (Canton), is a bustling and sprawling metropolis of some 14 million people.

During my time there, I’d made quiet a few journeys on the metro; an amazingly efficient rapid transit system, but a mega-busy one at the same time. There was not one journey where I managed to get a seat, so being in such close proximity, to so many people, it was hardly surprising that I picked up something nasty.

Now as I said earlier, I haven’t been anywhere locally that involved crowds of people. We don’t do the Boxing Day sales, and I haven’t been anywhere by train, so this remains as somewhat of a mystery. The really  annoying thing is that yesterday I had to turn down the chance of joining a couple of friends, on a walk which took in three excellent country pubs.

The walk started at the Swan, West Peckham – a long-established brew-pub, which turns out some pretty decent beers, before climbing up the part of the Greensand Ridge, to Dunk’s Green. The 16th Century Kentish Rifleman is the pub there, with beers from Tonbridge, Westerham or Whitstable breweries normally available. Finally, my friends would be walking back to the Two Brewers at Hadlow, for some Harvey’s Old, followed by the bus back to Tonbridge.

Given that night falls early at this time of year, I thought the walk might be pushing it somewhat, but the duo obviously made it back to the final pub in time, as they posted some photos on WhatsApp, showing them approaching Hadlow under the shadow of a blood-red sky.

There’s been a positive side to this enforced layoff, as I’ve been able to catch up on outstanding paperwork and look ahead to the coming year. This means planning excursions and holidays plus further sections long the North Down’s Way.

Being laid up has also given my body a break from the booze, as for the past couple of days the very thought of a glass of beer has been enough to curdle my taste buds. I hadn’t been drinking that much anyway over the Christmas period, despite having accumulated enough beer to float a battleship. A fair amount of this came from family, friends and work colleagues – I guess I must be easy to buy for, but it will all keep, apart from my mini-cask of Larkin’s Porter.

Unfortunately I didn’t quite finish the latter, before being struck down with the dreaded lurgy, but I estimate there’s between one and two pints remaining.  I imagine what’s left now, will be very flat and lifeless. I don’t regret buying it, as the beer was superb, especially on days two and three after opening. Then, like all cask products exposed to the air, the beer started to slowly deteriorate as the oxygen did its work.

Tomorrow – New Year’s Day, assuming I’m feeling better, I shall drive us down to Dungeness for fish & chips at the Pilot Inn. It’s a particular favourite of Mrs PBT’s, and with son Matthew not working tomorrow, we can make it a family outing.

After that, it’s back to work on Thursday for more work on the registration – notified body front. It’s only for two days though, as on Monday I’m flying up to Bonnie Scotland, to Dundee in the Kingdom of Fife. I'm travelling with our Business Development Manager, to give a presentation to one of our biggest UK customers. So with three days away from the office it will be another short week.

So all it remains for me to do now, is to wish every one of you, a peaceful, prosperous, happy and above all healthy New Year, and I’ll catch up with you again in 2020.

Sunday 29 December 2019

Keeping it local in Sussex

I hinted in my last post that I was going down with a spot of “man flu.” As things turned out, it wasn’t that bad. I did have a rather restless night where I felt like I was burning up, but that passed and I awoke this morning feeling surprisingly refreshed.

Mrs PBT’s was feeling a little under the weather as well. I don’t know if there’s such as thing as “woman flu,” and I’m not brave enough to ask, but she felt sufficiently rough enough to postpone our planned trip to Maidstone. Instead, she asked could we perhaps go somewhere a little quieter instead?

This was fine by me, as I detest major shopping centres and the large crowds they attract, especially at this time of year, so after we bounced a few alternative suggestions back and forth, we settled on the small market town of Wadhurst, which is just over the border from us, in East Sussex.

There was a reason for my good lady wife’s suggestion, (there normally is), and that was Wadhurst contains a branch of Jempson’s  - everyone’s favourite independent grocery store and, amongst other goodies, they sell “sausage rolls to die for.” So shortly before midday we jumped into the car and set off on our cross-border trip.

We drove down the A21, pleased that the bulk of the traffic was heading in the opposite direction to ourselves, before turning off at the start of the Lamberhurst by-pass. This was a bit of nostalgia for me, as for a three year period during the mid 1980’s,  I worked in Lamberhurst for a company called Crown Chemicals.  

Even three decades ago, Crown were that rarest of beasts, in being an independently-owned pharmaceutical company specialising in veterinary products. They were under-capitalised and lacked the ability to compete with the big international players, but they’d managed to strike a canny deal with a major US animal health company. The deal licensed them to sell a hormonal implant product, designed to "assist beef cattle gain weight and improve their feed efficiency."

The product was called Ralgro, and a quick Google search confirms it is still widely used in the good old US of A. For several years Crown grew rich on the back of this rather questionable product, but instead of investing the profits incurred from its sale, into new products and new ventures, the company sat on its hands not thinking that one day Ralgro might not be around.

That day came when the European Union slapped a ban on hormone-injected beef. Now even though this was likely to have a negative affect on my job, I thought the EU was quite right in taking action. Ask yourself, would you really want to be eating beef pumped full of a compound designed to stimulate the pituitary gland; because if it works on beef cattle, what effect might it have on us humans?

Mind you, once the joker in charge of the UK government has concluded his "amazing free trade deal" with the even bigger joker on the other side of the Atlantic, you almost certainly will get the chance; even though you probably won’t be aware of it!

I digress, seeing that the writing was on the wall, Crown picked up a major grant from the Irish government, and re-located to Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. Their site in the centre of Lamberhurst was re-developed and turned into housing. We noticed the houses, which are not so new now, as we drove through the village, which is now virtually free from traffic since the opening of the by-pass in 2005.

I also noticed that the village butcher, the sweet shop and the local bank have all long closed, along with the Horse & Groom pub, halfway up Town Hill. The pub closed in 2002, and is now an Airbnb property, but the disappearance of  Lamberhurst’s largest employer must have had an adverse effect on other businesses in the village. We’re getting bogged down again, but sometimes it’s necessary to wallow in a spot of nostalgia.

Although I have driven through Wadhurst quite recently, it must be 30 years or so since I last stopped off there. Mrs PBT’s had discovered the branch of Jempson’s, whilst out for a drive with our son Matthew. I’ll be expanding more on this local company in  a while, but for now their Wadhurst outlet is more a convenience store, rather than a full-blown superstore. With free parking behind the store, and a good selection of locally sourced produce on sale, (including Old Dairy beers), and friendly old-fashioned service, it seemed genuinely popular with the town’s folk.

Village shops (I hesitate at describing Wadhurst as a town), are like village pubs in so much they are the place where all the local gossip is aired. Whilst attempting to squeeze past a group who’d stopped for a natter, we couldn't help overhearing the bad news that was being aired.
I had originally planned to share it, particularly as there was a real sense of "gallows humour" involved, but in the cold light of day, I thought this might have been rather insensitive. The story was not for our ears, and whilst the chance of those affected reading this blog, must be pretty slim, it would still be inappropriate for me to share. (If you seem me in real life, and ask me nicely, then I might be tempted to tell you, but  until such a time, my lips are sealed!)

We bought the sausage rolls and a few other things beside. On the way back I suggested stopping off at the Elephant’s Head, at the nearby hamlet of Hook Green, but Mrs PBT’s wanted to get back for lunch. A pity thought I, as there was the chance that Harvey’s Old Ale might be on sale. She did suggest going out on another occasion with the express intention of a pub lunch, so all is not yet lost.   

So what about Jempson’s, the Sussex-based company, offering locally sourced products and services? The company was founded in 1935, as a bakery business in the village of  Peasmarsh, just outside Rye. Today the business had grown to become one of the largest family owned food supermarkets in the UK, consisting of  two supermarkets, two convenience stores, six cafe’s, a pharmacy plus a petrol station.

Jempson’s pride themselves in offering shoppers the highest standards of customer service as well as some of the finest foods from around the world. According to the company website, their intention is to become the most prestigious food retailer in the UK in terms of innovation, design and fresh food excellence.

We have often called in at their Peasmarsh Superstore, on the way back from visits to Rye, and have been impressed by what is on offer there. The store was opened in January 2002 on the same site as that  chosen by the firm’s founder, George Thomas Jempson 80 years ago. Today, brothers Andrew and Stephen Jempson  run the business, having taken over from their father Harold in the early 90’s.

I am a great believer in supporting local enterprises, particularly when they offer high quality, combined with good value, and this is just one more reason why I would rather support local pubs, rather than rattle around in one of Tim’s soulless beer barns.

If you find yourself in this part of the country, you could do a lot worse than call in at a Jempson’s store. As well as those already mentioned, at Peasmarsh and Wadhurst, you will find others in Battle, Northiam and Rye.

Meanwhile, the hunt for Harvey’s Old continues!

Friday 27 December 2019

Washed away

I don’t think I’ve ever known such a wet spell of weather. It doesn’t seem to have stopped raining for the past three months, and whilst excess precipitation doesn’t put such a dampener on things as it would during the summer months, it is still unwelcome, even at this time of year.

With eight days off from work, I had planned to get some more walking under my belt, but given the amount of rain we’ve had during recent weeks, the footpaths and fields are likely to be waterlogged or even impassable.

This is a shame, as it would have been good to have knocked off another section or two of the North Downs Way. I haven’t done any serious walking since completing the Canterbury Loop section back in September, and because of the inclement weather, my plans to strike out westward along the main branch of the trail, have suffered quite a setback.

I’m not a fair-weather walker, but whilst I don’t mind walking through the odd shower, incessant rain is another matter. Getting soaked to the skin is not my idea of fun; been there, done that, got the T-shirt, so with this in mind I will just have to be patient and wait for the arrival of spring – assuming we get a dry one, that is.

I had another reason for looking forward to a walk, and that was to get me out of the house. With Boxing Day a complete washout, I was coped up indoors for the best part of three days, so despite the beginnings of a cold, I  took a drive down into Tonbridge with Mrs PBT's to pick up some bread and milk, plus withdraw some cash.

Bad weather isn’t all bad though, as it affords time to do things indoors that you might have been putting off, not the most enjoyable way to spend time, I’ll grant, but you can devote resources to more fruitful and certainly more satisfying activities, such as planning your next day out, or even that longed for overhead’s trip.

A small selection from my Blog List
There are a few places that I’d like to knock off the bucket list this year, and I was going to do some work on this. However, by the time I'd got back, eaten a couple of left-over sausage rolls and made myself a cup of tea, the cold was starting to take hold. Instead, I decided to carry out a bit of maintenance on the blog and tidy things up a bit.

I've not done anything drastic, such as changed the appearance or background of the site, but I have given my Blog List a long-overdue revamp. This has meant quite a lot of out with the old and in with the new, particularity as there were quite a few sites that I follow that have become either moribund or have given up the ghost completely.

There are probably all sorts of reasons for this - people move on, get bored, lose interest, find something more exciting. Sometimes they sadly pass on completely, and this was the case with Richard Coldwell, whose excellent Beer Leeds website, I only started following a year ago.

So at present, six blogs have been culled from my list, including a few from the odd well-known writer. I shan't list any names, just in case there are perfectly valid reasons for them having given up blogging, but I'm pleased to report there are nine new blogs which are now gracing these pages.

That's kind of what you do at the end of a year, and with the creeping onset of "man flu," that's all I feel like doing at the moment!

Thursday 26 December 2019

25th December 2019

In case it escaped anyone’s notice, yesterday – Wednesday 25th December was Christmas Day; the “big day,” if you believe all the hype, and all the carefully targeting advertisements designed to part you from your money in the run up to the day itself.

The ads seem to start earlier each year, and certainly once we’re into October, they’re pretty much non-stop – as are all the cheesy hits being blasted out in shops and shopping centres all over the country. By the time the main event arrives, you’re sick and tired of the whole charade and feeling that it’s definitely not “The most wonderful time of the year,” despite what Andy Williams might tell you.

For many people Christmas is not a time to out-spend, out-consume and out-eat your fellow human beings. Instead it is a time for quiet reflection, to count one’s blessings and to spend time with friends and loved ones, if you are fortunate to have them. I’ll be putting some of my reflections out on my blog, before the year is out, but I want to say I enjoyed a quiet Christmas, at home, with my immediate family.

Being slightly older now, I can well appreciate why my father always preferred staying at home on Christmas day, rather than having to drive somewhere or have children and later grandchildren running amok. Mum had other ideas, of course, and expectations of  Christmas that were impossibly high, meaning disappointment was often inevitable.

I’ve never wanted to fall into that trap, and whilst during the early days of my marriage to Mrs PBT’s, I did have to endure driving off to spend time with parents, siblings or other family members, I’m pleased to say those days are passed. The worst part of those visits was, as the sole driver, not being able to enjoy a few beers. I’m not talking of getting tanked up, but I do like a beer or two with my Christmas dinner, without compromising my driving abilities, or breaking the law.

After having endured (sounds awful but it’s meant in the nicest possible way), the stresses arising from spending time in other people’s homes, with people you might not normally choose to spend time with, I can tell you there’s nothing better than being able to close the door on the rest of the world, (even if it’s only for one day), and just relax, chill out and just do your own thing in the comfort of your own home.

So how did I spend my December 25th ? Did I over indulge on the food or the booze and, seeing as this is a blog about beer, what interesting beers did I enjoy?

I was actually quite moderate with my drink consumption on Christmas Day, and the same applies to the food. I woke up just after 8.30am, and went downstairs just before 9am. Mrs PBT’s had already surfaced in order to get the all important  turkey in the oven, but there was no sign of son Matthew stirring from his slumbers. I made myself a cup of tea, and joined Eileen in a spot of breakfast grazing – finishing up some of the “finger food” left over from Christmas Eve’s soiree.

Presents were opened two and a half hours later, once the preparations for the dinner were progressed as far as they might, and young Matthew had graced us with his presence. We don’t tend to go overboard at Christmas, so there was nothing too extravagant for any of us; although there were the odd few indulgences. 
Shortly after midday both Matt and I started on the drink. I wanted something light to begin with, so the bottle of Curious Brew Lager that was lurking at the back of the fridge seemed just the ticket. The “curious” part of the name comes from the use of Champagne yeast, used to conduct a secondary fermentation. This imparts a Champagne - like quality to the beer, making it a surprisingly refreshing drink. Curious indeed!

I waited for Christmas dinner before cracking open my second beer, which was a bottle of Fuller’s 1845. For the past decade or so, this excellent, strong, bottle-conditioned ale has been my usual accompaniment for a turkey dinner. The rich malt combined with the earthy hop character cuts in well against the flavours and texture of the turkey and associated vegetables.

The dinner was excellent, but then Mrs PBT’s always serves up a good spread, and she certainly did us proud yesterday. Without wishing to bore with too much  in the way of domestic details, we went for a turkey from Tesco this year, rather than from our usual choice of  a Waitrose bird. It was tender, succulent plus nice and flavoursome, proving that turkey doesn't have be dry, bland and tasteless.

I finished the 1845 before I finished my meal, so I moved onto the Larkin’s Porter from the mini-cask that I’d stored out in the summerhouse. It had cleared nicely since the haziness of the previous evening, and was rich, dark and satisfying. Having only managed to track down one outlet selling one of my favourite winter beers so far this year, it’s good to have some on tap to be enjoyed in the comfort of my own home.

No more beers for a while, as a break from both food and alcohol seemed a good idea. So did a couple of glasses of water, as both can leave one dehydrated. Later on I cracked open a can of Pilsner Urquell. As I've undoubtedly mentioned before, this world classic, original pilsner, is my go-to beer for drinking at home. It has a tremendous depth of flavour for a 4.4% beer, with just the right amount of bitterness from the Saaz hops balanced against a deep malty background. Without getting too technical, this has something to do with the triple-decoction mash that the beer undergoes in the initial stages of production.

I finished the evening with a can of Life & Death, the excellent 6.5% abv IPA from Vocation Brewery. Pale in colour, and packed full of juicy malt flavours, off-set by aromas and flavours of tropical fruits, the beer proved the perfect accompaniment to the obligatory turkey sandwich.

That then, was my lot, and all things considered an enjoyable Christmas Day, without too much in the way of excess, and nothing in the way of stress. I even watched the odd spot of TV, just to be sociable, but when all’s said and done, it does seem like a terrific fuss for what, after all, is just another day.

I trust everyone  had an equally enjoyable December 25th, and I extend my best wishes and compliments of the season to one and all.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Christmas at home with Larkin's Porter

With Christmas just a day away, the vexed question of what beers to get in to enjoy over the Christmas period, once again raises its head. Or does it, as for the last few years I’ve largely given up on stocking up with certain favourites and instead have just gone with the flow.

That doesn’t mean I have a dry, beer less Christmas – that would be a disaster, but what I have tended to do is buy whatever is on offer at my local supermarkets; primarily Tesco, Waitrose and Asda, as Sainsbury’s seem to have given up on discounting or special offers. That way I can build up a reasonable stock of something drinkable and enjoyable, without breaking the bank.

I ensure that my festive season stock always includes personal favourites, such as Pilsner Urquell, Fuller’s Porter1845 and St Austell Proper Job. This Christmas I have built up quite a stock of cans from Vocation Brewery – Pride & Joy plus Life & Death. Last month I wrote about the promotion Tesco have been running on these beers

I have my father to thank for the long-standing tradition of Christmas beers within the Bailey household as, even though he was never much of a drinker, and certainly not a beer drinker, my dad was not averse to getting a few beers in for us to enjoy over the festive season.

I remember badgering him to get in some tins of Sainsbury’s Bitter; after I discovered it was brewed by Ruddles. A year or so later, I persuaded him to go for the real thing, in the form of Ruddles County – then available in those squat-shaped, stumpy bottles, with the ring-pull caps.

The Ruddles fascination was probably during my university years, whilst I was home with my parents, for the Christmas break. Those home visits were interspersed with sessions down at the Honest Miller - the local pub in the village, where copious pints of locally-brewed Fremlin's Bitter were enjoyed.

A few years later, after graduating, and after buying my first house, a two-up and two-down terraced cottage in Maidstone, I took what was the next step in home drinking, which was treating myself to a polypin of real ale, from a local brewery.

I’d become involved with the local CAMRA branch and ended up copying what one or two of the more senior members were doing. That was forty years ago, when I was approaching my mid-twenties, and some of those “senior” members were probably younger than I am now, but perception is everything when you’re young, and anyone over 40 was positively ancient in my book!
My polypins were mainly sourced from Harvey’s, although over the next few years I tried beer from several other breweries, including the Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery, whose equipment, and premises, were later acquired by Larkin’s.

The advantage of polypins is the beer is contained in a flexible container, inside the sturdy cardboard outer box, and the liner slowly collapses as the beer is drawn off. Because the beer does not come into contact with oxygen in the air, the beer will last upwards of two weeks, but inevitably it will start losing condition.

This meant the beer wasn't always quite at its best by the time the contents were exhausted, but I also found considerable variation in quality between different beers. None were off, or even approaching undrinkable, but several were rather lacking in condition, meaning a flat and often uninspiring pint. When you’ve got 36 pints of beer to get through that you’re not particularly enjoying, then it becomes something of an endurance test.
I eventually gave up on polypins and moved on to bottles as, in my experience, they're a much better bet. Not only do they remain fresh until they are opened, but they can provide a lot more variety. And with so much good food and interesting flavours available over the Christmas period, variety is what's required.

My days of buying draught beer in bulk seemed over until last week. I’d popped into the "Causeway Stores," close to my work, to buy a few more stamps from the Post Office, and to post a card to my sister in America.  Stacked in a corner, close to the counter, were several 5 litre mini-casks.

Now many micro, and not so micro breweries offer beer in these containers, not just at Christmas, but all year round. These ones were from Larkin’s who brew a few miles away in Chiddingstone village. I wasn’t aware that their beers were available in these containers, so I had a quick look at what was on offer, and found most were filled with Larkin’s Traditional, which is the brewery’s weakest, but most popular beer.

I noticed one contained the brewery's much more satisfying Best Bitter, but there weren’t any Porters lurking amongst the stack. After buying my stamps, I enquired as to whether Porter might be available, and discovered that whilst the shop had none in stock, they could get the brewery to drop one down for me. I duly placed my order and collected my mini-cask after work yesterday. At £22, it was a real bargain  and works out at just £2.75 a pint, assuming the cask contains 8 pints.

I set it up in the summerhouse yesterday evening, and have just tapped and poured myself a  pint. The beer is still a little hazy, but that doesn’t’ matter in a dark beer. It was well-conditioned – as Larkin’s beers normally are, but I will probably leave it another day or so, before drawing off any more.

My only previous experience of beer in mini-casks, was one I brought back from a pre-Christmas trip to Bamberg, twelve eleven years ago. It was a cask of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, the city’s legendary “Smoke beer,” and very nice it was too; certainly for the first two or three days.

The beer then slowly began to go downhill as the level of liquid in the container gradually went down. As might be expected, the amount of condition in the beer (the level of dissolved CO2), was the first thing to decline, followed slowly by a deterioration in the taste of the beer.

Lesson learned, so I will do my best to consume the contents as quickly as possible. With a beer as good as Larkin’s Porter, that shouldn’t be difficult, and as I was moaning just the other week about not having come across this beer locally this year, I’ve now got ample opportunity to get stuck in and start enjoying it.

Sunday 22 December 2019

Don't just drive on by

Have you ever driven past a pub and wanted to stop there but didn’t, because the timing wasn’t right, you were on your way somewhere else, or stopping there would have interfered with your itinerary? What if you’d driven past that pub on a more or less weekly basis?  Wouldn’t it start gnawing at your brain, after a while, and wouldn’t you just feel compelled to make time and pull over, in order to check the place out?

The pub might turn out to be an absolute duffer or, a real gem. Most likely it would be something in between. At least once you’ve checked it out you would know whether you were right in just driving by, or perhaps you’d missed an absolute corker of a place.

There’s a pub on the A25, at a place called Bessels Green; a settlement on the north-western edge of Sevenoaks, which has largely been absorbed by the town. It would be rather generous to describe Bessels Green as a village, but it does have a couple of 18th Century churches/meeting houses, an attractive village green, plus a rather nice looking pub.

The King's Head overlooks the green, and faces across to a row of brightly coloured, painted cottages on the opposite side. This combination of village green, cottages, posh house plus pub, forms a picturesque backdrop to traffic passing through on the busy A25. Before the M25 was constructed, the A25 was a major east-west artery for traffic wishing to avoid London, whilst travelling across southern England.

I remember having to use that route myself, when I lived in Maidstone, whilst on secondment to a company based in Hounslow. The noise, congestion and the pollution, especially from the lorries that used the route, must have been horrendous, so I imagine inhabitants of the towns and villages along the way must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when the southern section of the M25 finally opened.

The King’s Head is just the type of pub I was referring to earlier, and since Mrs PBT’s and I switched our weekly supermarket shop from ASDA to Tesco, we have driven past it most weeks. I’ve commented before that we ought to stop off there, if only for a coffee, but somehow the time’s never been quite right.

All that changed at the weekend, when son Matthew and I called in; not just once though, but twice! Allow me to explain, it’s become something of a tradition for Matthew to treat his old mum and dad to a few Christmas goodies. By this I mean a contribution to the Christmas feast over-indulgence. So father and son head off to the large Tesco store at Riverhead – just the other side of Sevenoaks, and stock up on items such as a cheese selection, Christmas pudding (I never feel like eating it on Christmas day), brandy sauce/butter, various types of stuffing and the eponymous “pigs in blankets, ” where did that piece of marketing originate?

We’d planned to go last Tuesday, but for some reason decided to postpone our trip until the Friday. Mrs PBT’s was going out that evening, for a meal with members of her ante-natal group, so Matthew and I decided we could pick up the Christmas goodies, and then stop off for something to eat on the way home. He was working late that evening, so I picked him up just after 7pm, and we drove over to Tesco at Riverhead to purchase what he deemed necessary for our festive feast. I also took the opportunity of picking up a few last minute Christmas gifts.

The next question was, where should we eat? Matthew’s idea had been to drive back along the A21 towards High Brooms, where we could grab something cheap and cheerful at the Robin Hood – the local Hungry Horse outlet. I wasn’t so keen on this, for a number of reasons and it was whilst walking up and down the aisles in Tesco that I hit on the idea of stopping off just up the road in Bessel’s Green, and calling in at the King’s Head.

I knew the food offering would be good as the pub is owned and run by the same small chain as the Little Brown Jug in Chiddingstone Causeway; the village where I work. Whiting & Hammond own eight pubs spread across West Kent and East Sussex, all run with a degree of autonomy, whilst benefiting from corporate purchasing power. You can read more about the company here, but if I tell you that Brian Whiting was formerly a director at the larger, and better known pub company - Brunning & Price, you will know the type of pub we were talking about.

We headed south and then due west out of Sevenoaks, before turning of the A25 and pulling up outside the King’s Head. We were struck by the warm ambience as we entered, with a log fire blazing away to our right, and the bar straight in front of us. I don’t know the history of the pub, but I do know that it underwent a major refurbishment in the Spring of 2014.

My first question to the barman was were they still serving food? Fortunately they were, so the next decision was what drinks to go for. With a choice of Taylor’s Landlord, St Austell Proper Job and Tonbridge Countryman, I went for the Proper Job; just a half mind you. It was getting close to Christmas, I was driving and there would be plenty of idiots on the road.

The barman said to choose a table and he’d bring our drinks over and take our food order. Before sitting down we had a brief look around this multi-roomed, slightly upmarket local. There are a variety of candle-lit tables of different sizes and styles, partitioned by a couple of exposed brick fireplaces. The small and cosy bar area seemed well patronised that Friday, with a group of drinkers standing and chatting at the bar.

The time was getting on towards 9pm, and by then any hunger pangs I might have had, had vanished. I opted for the “Ultimate homemade fishcake,” which consisted of smoked salmon and haddock, combined with potato and topped with a poached egg. It was served on a substantial bed of spinach. Matthew went for a more traditional offering in the shape of the homemade “Gourmet burger,” served with skinny fries. Both were just what we required at that moment in time.

The barman told us the pub had been rammed that afternoon, catering for various groups of diners, all getting stuck into their turkey dinners. Like its sister pub, the Brown Jug, the King’s Head must cater for local companies and their staff Christmas dinner.

It was pleasantly relaxed on Friday evening though, and like with the Jug, it was good to see local people who’d obviously walked to the pub, accompanied by their dogs. Matthew and I found ourselves back at the King’s Head on Sunday morning. 

We’d originally intended to drive over to Chiddingstone Causeway for a leisurely breakfast; either at the village hall, or at the Little Brown Jug, but after experiencing flooded roads on my drive into work on Friday, and further torrential rain on Saturday, we decided to try somewhere else.

We knew that the LBJ offers a good breakfast, so we surmised that the King’s Head would do the same. It did, but only offered fried eggs, rather than the fried or scrambled option available at the Jug. I could also have done with an additional round of toast. Apart from that the full English was fine, especially as we were provided with a nice large pot filled with plenty of tea.

So after driving past all those years, and wanting to stop off for further investigation, I found myself making two visits in the space of just three days. The barman even remembered us from Friday night! The main thing about the King’s Head though is that despite the obvious food trade, the pub still caters for the casual drinker; both local as well as from further afield.