The Five Bells at Brabourne
PUBLISHED: 15:28 26 January 2014 | UPDATED: 12:01 11 February 2014
Sunday lunch at Kent Life and Kent on Sunday's 'Pub of the Year' 2013
Once upon a time it would have been only pilgrims and travellers who stumbled across this appealing 16th-century country inn at the foot of the North Downs.
The lucky locals would have been already snugly inside – as indeed are their 21st-century counterparts on our Sunday lunch visit to The Five Bells in East Brabourne. Today’s visitors have the benefit of technology to help them sniff out this rural gem, which has remained true to its original principles of offering warmth, food and drink and a bed for the night.
It’s not even that remote anymore: 35 minutes by train from London, 15 from the Kent coast, Ashford and Canterbury.
But if you arrive by accident or design, once found, Kent Life and Kent on Sunday’s 2013 ‘Pub of the Year’ is impossible to forget and, as one of our trio later summarised: “It’s like being on holiday here – you just don’t want to leave.”
Why would you? There’s a blazing wood fire in the main bar, the gleaming copper bar has an array of local ales on tap, hops garland ancient beams, old photos and prints hang on the walls and wooden benches are strewn with rugs and cushions.
It’s a place where muddy boots and dogs are welcome and where the atmosphere is buzzy without being raucous. My Gorgeous Daughter, Her Lovely Fiancé and I were very happy. The warm glow was aided by a glass of Biddenden’s cider and its Ortega Dry, plus a manly tankard of Brabourne stout from a pleasingly Kentish list.
This local bias is also reflected in the producers our host John Bishop and his team use for their ever-changing menus: Griggs of Hythe, the Butcher of Brogdale at Faversham, The Wye Bakery and Watts Farm for fruit and vegetables.
These partners stock the pub’s in-house shop too, so you can take home just about anything that is served to the table; we even saw one woman buying a box of the lovely glasses she’d enjoyed her wine in.
Appetites sharpened by the country air and the sight of neighbouring tables tucking into huge sharing dishes of slow-cooked, beer-braised brisket served with crispy roast potatoes and fat Yorkshire puddings, we turned our attention to the handwritten menus. Vegetarians outnumbered carnivores, so our Sunday lunch wasn’t particularly traditional – but we notched up several highlights.
My huge portion of game terrine was enhanced by a spicy orchard chutney, while HLF’s tasty winter broth made with pan-fried field mushrooms and accompanied by a wedge of crusty home-made bread could have served as a main course, it was so generously served.
Among the mains, MGD’s Portobello mushroom burger (with home-made mayonnaise and tomato relish in cute little kilner jars) was a stand-out version of that classic, while my ‘whole leaping trout’ – served in an earthenware dish big enough for a small family – was roasted over chestnut embers, coated in a herby oat crust and peppered with pecans. Delicious.
Other choices ranged from steaks and wood-fired pizzas to pork ribs, liver and bacon and a fab-looking fish pie.
Extremely full, we asked for three spoons to share an unusual chocolate brownie pot topped with pear and Stilton. The jury is still out on that combo and next time I think we’d go for a slightly less wacky plum duff with Taywell ice cream or a damson, apple and sticky toffee pudding.
Utterly replete, warm as toast from the log fire, our only regret was that we weren’t staying the night. There are five gorgeously individual bedrooms and breakfasts here are reputedly very popular, not to mention the morning coffee, tea and cakes…
This is a ‘proper’ pub, the sort every village deserves to have, with good, hearty food and warm hospitality at its heart. A true winner. n