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Hotel review: The Dog at Wingham

PUBLISHED: 10:03 02 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:03 02 May 2017

The Dog

The Dog

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

New owners have transformed The Dog at Wingham, with a fresh decor, staunchly seasonal menu and the warmest of family welcomes

Dining area in the cosy barDining area in the cosy bar

Deep layers of family and friendship are behind the success of The Dog at Wingham.

The revitalised inn may be just six months into its new ownership, but the transformation is extraordinary and already feels deep rooted.

Sitting outside in the south-facing garden, one of the bar’s 40 specialist G&T’s in hand (Dockyard Gin by Copper Rivet Distillery with a grapefruit garnish; sublime), I hear the full story from general manager Marc Bridgen.

Working in property development with his stepfather Shaun Tilley had led to an interest in the hospitality business through projects in Margate and Whitstable – and when mum, Marilyn, an interior designer, got involved there was no looking back. The family wanted its own hotel.

A trawl all over Kent drew a blank, until a tipoff led them to Wingham, less than two miles from Shaun and Marilyn’s home in Ickham. It was meant to be.

Bedroom 4: scary no moreBedroom 4: scary no more

“We got the keys on 14 June last year,” says Marc. “The plan was to deep clean, decorate and get open in time for the summer trade – but then we realised so much more was needed.”

It was literally all hands to the deck – Marc, his brother Oliver, Shaun and Marilyn and even the staff all pitched in.

“We’d got our team in place before we knew we were going to have to close for the refurbishment,” explains Marc. “So everyone helped us labour on site, kitchen team and management all in it together.”

That’s when the family ties at The Dog (they’ve dropped the ‘Inn’, thank heavens) got even more multi-layered.

Managers Will and Hugh are brothers from the village, head chef Dan Johns is their best friend from childhood, who was keen to get out of London because his wife was expecting their first child, there’s even have a gran, mum and daughter on the housekeeping team.

Dan's signature pork dishDan's signature pork dish

Opening was accelerated by a wedding booking for 14 October, exactly four months after getting those keys. But with a deadline, everyone pulled together and it was a triumph.

Time for me to leave the spring sunshine and inspect my room before dinner, with a slight sense of dread. I’ve stayed in No. 4 before and it was quite frankly a little creepy, lots of dark wood panelling and a bathroom with dodgy plumbing.

I needn’t have worried – gone is the scary bathroom, replaced by a neat little en suite shower room behind pocket doors to maximise the space, and Marilyn’s exquisite taste has transformed the gloomy decor.

Now reds, pinks and silver tones add warmth and elegance to the oak panelling and the four-poster rejoices in the best mattress (Hypnos, from Kent’s Lukehurst Home Interiors, no less) I’ve ever slept on.

But no lolling about yet, time to head down to the cosy bar and join my dining chum for a leisurely romp through chef Dan’s à la carte menu, sensibly concise at six seasonal choices per course to enable him to update up to seven dishes every couple of weeks.

Dan Johns, head chef at the DogDan Johns, head chef at the Dog

MDC chose a pear and cheese dish, expecting something altogether more humble than the sweet, shaved fruit that contrasted so well with the salty tang courtesy of crumbled feta and crunch of walnuts.

Soft and sour taste sensations zinged though my startlingly good slow-cooked mackerel served with baby squid, lemon and cucumber, bursting with sea freshness.

The recommendation of a Spanish Macabeo Fuente Verde by manager Hugh, who looked after us with humour and grace, was perfect.

I followed an overlooked fish with an unusual choice of cut of lamb and can thoroughly recommend the saddle. It cut like butter, packed oodles of flavour and married perfectly with its accompanying potato gratin, wild mushroom and spinach.

MDC nabbed chef’s favourite pork medley – pancetta-wrapped tenderloin, perfectly crisp, crunchy belly and salt-baked cabbage – her only slight regret that she hadn’t chosen another vegetable to add colour and contrast.

Pudding was utterly indulgent. We knew chef wanted us to try his tart tatin, yet we insisted on sharing a divine warm chocolate tart with peanut ice cream and salted caramel first. However, we bravely managed to devour most of the delicious classic apple dessert too, helped by a glass of ripe, fruity Sauternes ….

Not surprisingly, that gorgeous bed was beckoning and I slept like a baby, welcomed in the morning by the lightest of scrambled eggs (made with crème fraîche) served on good crunchy toasted bread from the local bakery.

I arrived a stranger, left a friend.

The essentials

Where: The Dog at Wingham, Canterbury Road, Wingham, Canterbury CT3 1BB

01227 720339 or info@thedog.co.uk

What: Family run pub with rooms and restaurant-quality cuisine

When: Mon-Sat, pub:11am to 11pm, kitchen: 12 noon to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 9pm

Sun, pub: 11am to 9pm, kitchen: 12 noon to 5pm

B&B check in: 3pm each day, check out: 10.30am

How much: Lunch two courses: £15, three courses £18. Dinner (à la carte): mackerel with baby squid £6.50, pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin, crispy belly and quince £16.95, sticky toffee pudding £6.50

Meet the chef

Name: Dan Johns

Job title: Head chef

Tell us a bit about you

I’m from Plymouth originally, I worked at The Dartmoor Union in Holbeton, the Horn of Plenty in Tavistock and The Treasury in Plymouth before moving to London, where I worked for Gary Rhodes at W1 and Searcy’s at The Gherkin.

I have been at The Dog for almost a year, the thing I have enjoyed the most is being part of a project from the beginning, planning and putting together some of the systems and practices that help make it run as it does today, seeing it grow and develop.

Your principal local suppliers?

Preston butchers, Chapmans of Sevenoaks and our local bakery E.T. Wilmshurst & Sons.

Your signature dish?

Pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin, crisp confit belly, burnt apple, Lyonnaise potato and salted cabbage - simple flavours that just work so well together.

Top cookery tip?

Keep tasting from start to finish. Experiment and don’t be afraid to try new things!

Who has influenced you most?

Previous head chefs, including Paul Welburn, Killian Lynch and Matt Edmonds

Your must-have kitchen gadget?

My Irinox MultiFresh blast chiller and slow cooker

Your breakfast this morning?

Bran flakes.

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