Casting a Spell

CHARLIE BOND PAYS A VISIT TO THE GEORGE & DRAGON IN SPELDHURST TO DISCOVER
WHY THIS VILLAGE PUB HAS BECOME A FOODIE FAVOURITE

Tucked just outside of Tunbridge Wells in the village of Speldhurst, The George & Dragon gained new ownership in 2017, and has been making waves in the local foodie scene ever since. Before I come to do my review, at least three people exclaim how good the food is, so I know I’m in for a treat.

Driving along winding lanes to reach the pub, you feel as though you could be a million miles from the hustle and bustle of the town – picturesque houses and charming scenery greets you at every turn, before you eventually reach your destination – a 13th-century building with dramatic oak beams and plenty of rustic charm.

Just when you think spring’s on the way, we’re hit with another cold snap; today is one of those days, so our table, situated right next to the roaring open fire, is most welcome. That, coupled with a glass of the Tirento Argentinian Malbec (£10), and the evening is pretty much perfect before we’ve even entertained the idea of food.

As we peruse the menu, it becomes apparent that this place is the heart of the village community. Locals greet each other warmly as they enter, and the atmosphere is buzzing. It’s also nice to see so many people eating too – some village pubs can gain a reputation for just being a ‘watering hole’ with locals sipping pints around the bar, but not here.

As well as a plentiful menu filled with pub classics and seasonal dishes, I note that their food is locally sourced – the meat comes from Fuller’s of Tunbridge Wells or Gunne of London, the fish from Sankey’s, and fruit and vegetables are bought directly from I A Harris at New Covent Garden Market.

We start our meal with a dish of marinated olives to share (£3.50), then once we’ve demolished those, we’re presented with our starters – for my guest, the chicken liver parfait (£8.50), served with red onion marmalade and wedges of warm toasted ciabatta, and for me, half a pint of shell-on prawns with garlic mayonnaise (£6).

The prawns taste wonderfully fresh, and although I’m aware that I’m making a terrible mess with the shells, the meat inside is worth it – they almost don’t need the mayonnaise, they’re that tasty on their own.

My guest’s parfait is equally appetising, and she enthuses over its creaminess and the sweetness of the onions. Our starters couldn’t be more different, but we’re both left impressed and looking forward to the main event, which follows shortly.

Fish is the dish of the day for both of us – she’s chosen the beer-battered fi sh and chips (£13.50), while I opt for the pan-seared fillet of seabass (£19). If I thought I’d reached my prawn quota for the day, I was wrong – my seabass is topped with more, plus mussels, samphire and a divine caper butter – and it’s just incredible. Sitting atop a bed of crushed new potatoes, the fi sh itself has a crisp skin, while being perfectly cooked beneath.

As for the fish and chips – they’re just as impressive, with a gorgeous golden batter encasing the flaky meat, and chunky, crisp chips with fluffy insides. The George & Dragon has really excelled here – this British pub classic can be hard to make remarkable, but they’ve definitely succeeded.

We have to take quite an extended break before we can consider dessert, but in the name of research, I feel it’s only right to sample something sweet. (My jeans, on the other hand, are certainly protesting by this point!)

Wanting something refreshing (and prawn-free!), we both order the caramelised lemon tart (£6.50), which is served with blackcurrant sorbet and raspberries, and manages to be both creamy and sweet, yet sharp and zesty. We’re not the only ones who are impressed either; the couple on the table next to us are deliberating over their dessert choices, and on seeing ours, they tell us they’ve been inspired.

We leave, very full of food, but also full of praise for The George & Dragon. It’s a wonderfully homely place, where you’re welcomed as if you’re a local. In fact, I wish this was my local – Speldhurst could be gaining a new villager very soon…