Monday 15 April 2024

Celebration Day

It was my birthday on Saturday. It wasn't a significant birthday but it's not far off being one, although for the time being at least, that's as far as I’m prepared to go on the subject. The Bailey family decided it would be nice to celebrate the old man’s special day, but where to go? Being the name in the frame, I of course got to choose, but I was determined that we should go somewhere different, and some where we hadn’t been before.

After quite a bit of searching both online and asking around amongst work colleagues, we settled on a pub called the Vineyard at Lamberhurst Down. Nestled in the Kent countryside and close to the vineyards of Lamberhurst, the Vineyard is a cosy country pub, formerly known as the Swan.  It is an attractive pub which dates from the 1700's, and originally started life as three thatched cottages.  Today, the pub is largely given over to dining, but according to What Pub, it retains a comfortable bar area for drinkers.

I didn’t get to see the bar, as after checking in with the front of house, we were immediately shown to our table, located at the rear of the building, and close to a door leading to the outdoor drinking/dining area and terraced garden. It was all very pleasant, with a bright airy feel to the place, but the thing that caught my eye, and kept me entertained was the large pizza oven and pizza preparation station, to the right of out table. I don’t know what you call the person in charge of cooking pizzas, but the chap looking after this side of things, was certainly kept very busy.

I can't remember the last time I visited the Vineyard, and it may even have been back in the day (early 90’s) when I worked in Lamberhurst at Crown Chemicals, a small privately owned pharmaceutical company that specialised in veterinary products. I'm not sure either when or indeed why, the pub changed its name, but today it is one of 15 upmarket family dining outlets, scattered across mid Kent and extending down into East Sussex. The company behind this chain is Elite Pubs, even though not all the group’s outlets started life originally as pubs.

Son Matthew visited another Elite Pub a month or so ago, when he dined out with his cousin and her fiancé at the Lazy Fox, just over the Sussex border, at Mark Cross. He enjoyed his meal but in typical Matthew fashion was very understated about the place, so we didn't get much in the way of feedback about the pub, or the food. However, a colleague with connections to that part of the world, and who has dined several times at the Lazy Fox, thought that the Vineyard would be a good bet, so after running my decision passed Mrs PBT's, I went online and made a reservation.

Yes, I booked a table, and yes, I know that one or two people (mainly one), aren't going to like that, but turning up at Saturday lunchtime on the off chance that the pub “might” have a vacant table was always going to end in disappointment, even more so when the Met Office was promising the first decent spell of weather this spring. Booking online was a lot easier than phoning the pub and waiting for a harassed member of staff to answer, find the diary, and a pen, in order to take down my details. I even received an e-mail confirmation sent to my phone.

We drove over to Lamberhurst, which is a reasonably sized village, which straddles the River Teise. The latter is a tributary of the Medway, and whilst it looks quite benign, it can occasionally flood and burst its banks, during times of heavy rainfall.  Lamberhurst is much quieter now than it was during my days working at Crown Chemicals, and it’s hard to believe that the A21 – the main, London-Hastings trunk road ran through the heart of the village. Fortunately, a newish by-pass runs to the east, and Lamberhurst is now a peaceful settlement, and a pleasant place to live.

When we arrived at the Vineyard, the car park nearest to the pub was already full, and the overspill parking area, which is larger than the main one, was beginning to fill up as well. I doubt we would have secured a table had we not booked one.  Our reservation was for 1 pm and were probably about 10 minutes ahead of that time, so after parking we climbed the steps past a series of attractive looking terraces, overlooking the garden at the rear of the pub, and entered, as described earlier.

Apart from the location, plus the recommendation from colleagues and family members, my main reason for choosing the Vineyard was the homemade pie which featured on the menu. Many readers of this blog will be well aware that I really love a pie, especially a proper homemade one where the meat and the rest of the filling is all encased in pastry. Fortunately, the practice of calling, what is in effect a casserole with a pastry lid, seems to be seems to be waning, and more and more places are going the extra mile and producing proper pies.

The featured pie at the Vineyard, had a filling of gammon, chicken and leeks, and was served with new potatoes, broccoli spears plus green beans all smothered in butter, not especially healthy, but it was a treat a birthday treat. The dish came with a small pot of gravy, but as the veg and the new potatoes tasted so good on their own, I was reluctant to smother them in gravy, although I did put a small dollop on the side of my plate, to soak up the pastry part of the pie.

Drink wise, I knew the pub stocked Harvey’s, so I ordered a pint of Best, and when Matthew was asking about the lagers, I heard the name Curious Brew mentioned. This was confirmed afterwards by a member on the family WhatsApp group, who also claimed the pub sold Cellar Head beers. I mentioned this brewery in a previous post, stating whilst there was nothing wrong with Cellar Head beers, I just wasn't overly keen on them. The Sussex Best was excellent, although as I was driving, I only had the one pint.

After the main course, we decided to push the boat out and go for a dessert.  Eileen and I both went for a election of different-flavoured, Cornish dairy ice creams from Callestick Farm – wherever that is, in Cornwall? Matthew chose sticky toffee pudding. With coffee to follow, it was the perfect birthday blow-out. I also have to say that the service at the Vineyard was exemplary, and the girls who took our order and brought the food over, were pleasant, friendly, well briefed, and a pleasure to engage with.

My only gripe was not getting the chance for a proper look around the pub itself. That wouldn’t have been very practical, given the number of people inside, and it certainly wouldn’t have been appropriate to go round taking photos – something my family like to remind me of, whenever the chance arises. I’m tempted to take a drive over there, during an off-peak moment, and enjoy that more detailed look around.

We drove home, via Tunbridge Wells, taking the B2169 Bayham Road through Hook Green and Bells Yew Green. Both settlements have their own tied Harvey’s pubs, the Elephant’s Head in the first instance, and the Brecknock Arms at the latter. All these places (and pubs), can be reached by bus, as can the Vineyard, so for those with a bus pass, this forms an enjoyable way of spending a day in the attractive, Kent-Sussex border area.




Stafford Paul said...

I shall have the same unsignificant birthday next week but haven't made any plans yet.

Anonymous said...

A nonsense kind of place that seem to litter the Kent/East Sussex countryside. Always seem to be filled with well to do, but ultimately rough old Cockney types on a day out dahn from SE Laaandan.
The prices were out of control last time I was there around 2010ish, so lord only knows what they're charging these days?!?

Cooking Lager said...

Yo Arbuckle,
I imagine " who ate all the pies " is very much a rhetorical question in the Bailey household.

Paul Bailey said...

Paul, once you reach a certain stage in life, birthdays are just another day, although I would make an exception, for significant ones.

Anonymous, unfortunately smart dining pubs are a sign of the times, as it is now, nigh on impossible for “wet-led” to make a living , particularly in rural areas - drink-driving, and all that.

Surely it’s better for these places to remain open as dining pubs, rather than close altogether, as you can still enjoy a beer in most of them, without feeling too much out of place.

Cooking Lager – stating the bleeding obvious really, although I’m not the only family member who enjoys a “proper” pie.

retiredmartin said...

Enjoy your food, Paul.

I hear Cwllar Head have just called in the administrators.

Paul Bailey said...

That's right, Martin. Bad news certainly travels fast.

I was going to write a post about it, but I got distracted by a few jobs that needed doing outside.