Restaurant review: The Woolpack Inn, Warehorne
PUBLISHED: 09:59 11 July 2017
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
If you like your pubs earthy, full of character and on the eccentric side, then The Woolpack is for you
I loved this place from the minute I got out of the car and smelt the wood smoke – then walked into a wonderfully welcoming bar with a crackling log fire. And a beaming bar manager.
Part of the small but perfectly formed Ramblinns collection of country inn freehouses that follow the Royal Military Canal between Rye and Hythe on the edge of the Romney Marshes, The Woolpack at Warehorne joins sister pubs The Globe, just outside ancient Rye, and The Five Bells at Brabourne.
Dating from 1570, my home for the night sits opposite the village church of St Matthew, surrounded by grazing Romney sheep on the edge of Walland Marsh. It’s so peacefully picturesque it’s hard to imagine that 15 minutes ago I was in Ashford, or that London is a mere 40 minutes away by train.
But with a goblet of Anno Gin and Fever Tree tonic in hand, all is right with the world as I sit out front with owner John Rogers and operations director Nina Katz to learn a bit more about the background to this magical trio of inns.
John tells me that buying The Five Bells seven years ago and its subsequent success (it was our Pub of the Year in the 2013 Food & Drink Awards 2013) made the other two acquisitions possible.
“Both The Globe and The Woolpack were boarded-up pubs, this one had a chequered history and had been shut for a year,” says John, who trained as an architect at Kent County Council then joined Courage the Brewers.
He adds: “We didn’t want to repeat The Five Bells but we did come to the conclusion that there were some communities that appreciate someone coming along and re-opening their pubs.”
And right on cue, as a sudden shower sends us scuttling indoors, a local couple on the next table lean over to say how much they love the place and that everything John has said is true, by the way!
Community is something the Ramblinns group really cares about (look out for treasure hunts, duck races, quizzes and more) and one of the clues is in the name.
You can indeed ramble to reach all three (or cycle, paddle or row), hopping on or off the ‘The Ramblinn Marsh Harrier’ bus if you prefer that travels the Downs, Marsh and waterways between the inns. They’ll carry your bags and even meet you with a picnic en route.
Installed in a snug corner of the bar, I take in the homely surroundings of this former Marsh farmhouse – flagstone floors, wooden settles covered in well-worn cushions and sheepskin rugs, wine glasses dangling from old farm implements hung from the ancient ceiling. You expect a smuggler at every turn.
Time to eat and I choose another nook and cranny, this one right by the kitchen so I can see the young team at work and watch their creations emerge from the wood-fired oven.
From the ‘smaller plates’ section of the core menu I can’t resist a wonderfully flavoursome hot skillet of juicy chorizo and onions, baby tomatoes and wild rocket topped with a fried egg. With a glass of full-bodied ‘Cabaret Frank’, it’s a robust and satisfying way to begin a hearty meal.
Don’t miss the ‘Daily Doings’, a great way to sample the best catch or idea of the day. When I spot ‘pork with watermelon’ emerging jewel-like on a plate from the kitchen from my ‘hot seat’, I bypass my lovely waitress Amber and tell chef – ‘I’m having some of that.’
Who knew you could cook watermelon, but head chef Mark certainly can and the combination with pork cooked long and slow is a very delicious, modern take on sweet and sour, with the best lime and coconut rice I’ve tasted. “It’s brilliantly bonkers,” I tell chef, toasting him with my glass of Biddenden Ortega. He grins and agrees.
I’ve chatted so long to Nina, Amber and later on owner John, back from seeing how things are doing over in Rye and Brabourne, that the kitchen has closed for the night.
But I am far too full for fruit crumble (next time) and instead enjoy an excellent coffee before a climb up the twistiest, creakiest little staircase to ‘Honeychild’ – one of five individually styled rooms.
Soon chin-deep in an old-fashioned tub overlooking the church, my head resting against a sheepskin throw, milk churns besides the bed and a cow’s head above it, I couldn’t help but smile my way into slumber.
And you’ll smile when you see breakfast laid out on a vast farmhouse table – jugs of milk, fresh juices, fruit, new-baked loaves, big pots of jam and croissants fresh from the oven.
Opting for (perfect) Eggs Benedict, I tear myself away from dreams of sheep and smugglers back into the 21st-century, with promises to return and walk those marshes.
Where: The Woolpack Inn Church Lane, Warehorne, nr Ashford TN26 2LL, 01233 732900
What: Popular country village pub with rooms
When: Breakfast from 8am Mon-Thu, full menu and lighter brunch menus from 12pm, food open until 9.30pm, close 11pm. Fri and Sat 8am-10pm for food, close 11pm; Sun 8am-9pm for food, close at 10.30pm
How much: Whitebait £6.50, Marsh burger £13, lookers and hookers skewer £16.50
Meet the chef
Head chef at The Woolpack Inn, Warehorne
Tell us a bit about you
I started within the catering industry as a kitchen porter at a hotel part time at the weekends while studying for my GCSEs. After finishing school I completed a four-year apprenticeship at Boodles in St James’ and have been lucky enough to have worked abroad in Greece, France, and Sweden where I have family. I’ve worked for the Ramblinns group now for just under two years. It’s a great company to work for, the owner and my line managers really look after every single employee.
Your main local suppliers?
Johnsons Fruiterers in Rye, Jamie Wickens at The Ship Butchers in Winchelsea and the Dungeness Fish Hut.
Your top cookery tip?
Keep it simple, yet push yourself with your skills and flavour combinations. Cooking should be fun and rewarding.
Who has influenced you most?
Keith Podmore, my head chef at Boodles whom I trained under. I bumped into him a couple of months ago after not seeing each other for more than 20 years.
Your must-have kitchen gadget?
A good-quality set of knives and quality pans are what you rely on - as well as my great team of staff both front and back of house. I’m blessed to have a kitchen full of gadgets, however, and the thermo-mix is a great gadget to experiment with!
Breakfast this morning?
Today I had granola with raspberries and Greek yoghurt and a good-quality coffee.