Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Five go to Kent for the weekend...part 1

"...After entering the pub we had a very loud and unsubtle debate about whether it was acceptable to walk out. Obviously, being English and hidebound by our repressed upbringings, we decided this would be far too rude - having made our bed, we should lie in it..."

Autumn, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...I wonder how many lazy journalists and bloggers have quoted that line and spent September and October waxing lyrical about the wonders of autumn: feathered game, hedgerow fruits, Alba truffles, Turkish figs, English apples, pumpkins and squash, the list goes on.

But, if you can't beat them, join them, because I too am going to jump right on the bandwagon. Autumn is by far and away my favourite time of the year and not only for the marvellous food on offer:
  1. The return of the rugby season.
  2. My birthday
  3. I can start thinking about where I'm going to be going skiing in a couple of months time.
Unfortunately you don't really get the full autumnal experience in Central London; wondering what nasties are hidden amongst the fallen leaves on Clapham Common and buying disgracefully overpriced pheasant from the posh butchers just doesn't do it for me. So this is the time of year I like to get out of the capital as much as possible, and when a friend of mine invited me down to her rural retreat in Kent I jumped at the opportunity.

I don't know whether you are familiar with this part of England, but during the autumn months you can barely go 10 yards without finding yourself surrounded by apples or apple pickers, the place is heaving with them. Evidently, this is no hardship as I dearly love an English apple, and eating a Cox's Orange Pippin freshly scrumped from your nearest orchard is another of life's little pleasures. English apples (and of course I am biased here) are clearly the best in the world and it drives me nuts when I go into supermarkets during September and October and find apples that have been air-freighted in from foreign shores. Frankly, this seems a scandal on so many levels that I don't have the time to go into the subject in any great depth. 

The sacred English apple
I had an illuminating conversation with an interesting old bloke a while ago on a separate trip to Kent (he was tending to his vineyard at the time!), who filled me in on the some practices the supermarkets employ when dealing with the apple growers. Apparently his neighbour had a contract with one of the major supermarkets to sell his whole crop to them, but Mr Supermarket decided that upon reflection they weren't quite sweet enough to appeal to our childish tastes, so he was forced to sell them for a pittance to be made into apple juice. Then if that isn't enough, he didn't even bother to pick his Russets as it wasn't worth his while to pay people to do it!

My friend is lucky enough to have an orchard at her house and I certainly did not come back empty handed when invited to take some home. In fact I picked a full bag load of them and have grand plans at the moment for a Tart Tatin (Rowley Leigh has published an recipe for one made with Russets on the FT website) and a chutney of some sort. However, I haven't had time to achieve any of this yet, so what is the purpose of this post?

Well, on Saturday night we decided to go out for dinner and had a meal of such dismal quality, that I felt it was only right that I name and shame the Red Lion in Wingham as somewhere so poor, that not even a bevy of wild horses and all the girls from the Lynx advert could persuade me to return.

The interior of the pub should have been a sign of things to come, although rather incongruously they had a couple of magnums of Chateau d'Angludet on display - a claret from Margaux - which was an odd decision, as a couple of 2 litre bottles of Tizer would have been more in keeping with the quality of food on offer. In some ways I feel slightly mean for laying it on so thick, especially as our waitress was very nice to us, but then I remember that these people actually took my hard earned cash in exchange for undercooked chips, a meagre slice of flabby ham and a couple of greasy fried eggs.

The others, similarly inspired by the menu decided to stick to that pub classic, a cheese burger. After all, you can't go wrong with a burger, can you? The burger was a bit like the first time you have sex, everything was just about in the right place - bun, beef burger, cheese, bun - except that the whole thing just wasn't quite right. To the chef's credit, the burgers were cooked well and still a little bit pink in the middle, but had a rather strange, musty after-taste, which wasn't wholly pleasant. However, on the plus side, the tomato relish that came with it was quite nice apparently.

After entering the pub and being shown our seats, we'd had a very loud and unsubtle debate about whether it was acceptable to walk out and try the next door Dog Inn (I kid you not). Obviously, being English and hidebound by our repressed upbringings, we decided this would be far too rude - having made our bed, we should lie in it.

What a poor decision that was. After fleeing the scene of the crime, we made the 50 yard journey up the road to the Dog Inn, which turned out to be a far more salubrious joint and in-keeping with our metropolitan ideas of the perfect Kentish pub. Dried hops hanging from the ceiling, a friendly Eastern European barman and a menu that featured Roast Partridge, Venison and locally caught fish.

As you'd expect recrimination and accusation ensued - who's fault was it that we succumbed so meekly to our fate next door, who recommended the Red Lion in the first place, who made the booking etc., etc. It took an excellent cheeseboard to shut everyone up, and by kicking out time we left the pub sated and more or less happy with life.

The moral of the story? When in Wingham, always go Dog Inn...

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