The Fordwich Arms – Pub Fine Dining

Having visited The Fordwich Arms a few times in the summer months, I rated it as a decent country pub. I was really pleased to hear that it had seriously raised it’s game on the food front especially after reading a glowing review in the Guardian. So we happily booked a table for lunch with high expectations.

Fine dining in a pub is very difficult to pull off.  The Sportsman in Whitstable is one of the rare places that manages it. The Fordwich Arms is trying very hard. The excellent bread and theatrically presented amuse bouche which would be quite at home in a traditional fine dining restaurant somehow jarred in the pub setting. The smell from the wood fire, the rude customer at the bar listening to what sounded like racing results on his phone, and the draft from the door when it was left open a bit too long were off putting. Although these observations may seem petty in retrospect, they illustrate the differences between fine dining in a pub and fine dining in a restaurant.

The Fordwich Arms has an a la carte menu and a set lunch menu for £35 which was inviting enough to stick too rather than splashing out out on any of the a la carte options.

My starter of Smoked Trout, Oyster, Apple and Horseradish was beautifully presented and quite lovely, my companion had the Chicken liver Parfait, Red grape and Gingerbread  which looked good with it’s grape scales, but was otherwise fairly ordinary. We both had the Chalk Farm  Sika Venison, Plum, Pumpkin and Braised Sholder Crumble for our main course. It was tasty but nothing special. For dessert we ordered the rather delicious Fordwich Snickers. To accompany the meal we ordered some wine by the glass, but were disappointed with all four rather lacklustre wines.

Paying the bill was more pub than fine dining as after waiting a bit too long for table payment we joined the customers vying to order their pints at the Bar and paid there.

It’s early days for the Fordwich Arms new management and kitchen and we wish them well, the pub is in a lovely setting by the river. The town of Fordwich (the smallest in Britain) is worth visiting. You can go Canoeing with Canoe Wild or book a relaxing river trip with Fordwich River Tours for example (starts just outside the Fordwich Arms) and for the more energetic there’s pleasant country walks to Canterbury, Stodmarsh NNR and around Westbere lake.

STARK – good things come in small packages

STARK in Broadstairs is named after Game of Thrones Ned Stark (seriously) and like that show it’s not to be missed. It’s rare to find a restaurant of this calibre outside London, it can genuinely give that other Kent gem The Sportman in Whitstable a run for it’s money. The tiny 12 cover restaurant which is open only in the evenings Wednesday to Saturday, is run by husband and wife team Ben and Sophie Crittenden and although the food could easily grace a more sophisticated venue, the location in a former sandwich bar is comfortably casual.

The focus is entirely on a well thought out, well structured six course tasting menu with excellent ingredients and matching wines. The menu changes on a regular basis to showcase the talents of Chef Ben Crittenden formally of The West House a Michelin starred Restaurant in Biddenden.

All the dishes we had were very good, tasty and beautifully presented. Personal favourites being the pork, miso and sweet corn dish and the chocolate, coffee and buttermilk dessert. The matching wines were all very good too, although the Cotes du Rhone was a less successful pairing, as it’s always going to be difficult to match a wine with a soup dish.

Getting a booking at STARK might be a challenge, following a very positive review in the Guardian and The Good Food Guide naming Ben as the guides “chef to watch” so best to plan ahead. This is a destination restaurant and I’m thrilled that it’s on my doorstep. I certainly made sure I didn’t leave the Restaurant before I made my next booking.

My return visit confirmed Starks consistency, with another delicious tasting menu and good quality wines.

Royal Victoria Pavilion, Ramsgate

Like a lot of Ramsgate residents I had mixed feelings when I first heard that Wetherspoons had bought the lease on the Royal Victoria Pavilion and that they intended to convert it into a super pub. My view was that something had to be done to save the Pavilion which like so much of the stunning architecture in Ramsgate was being left to fall into wreck and ruin, but could the town support the largest Wetherspoon pub in the UK?

Now I have to say that I am impressed with the end result, the building has been sympathetically restored to it’s former glory. It’s stunning and has certainly revitalised the Harbour Parade area of Ramsgate. The other bars and cafes around it seem busy too, whether they stay that way I can’t say, but it does look like more visitor’s are being attracted to the area.

We went there on a lovely sunny day just two weeks after the official opening and grabbed a table on the upper terrace, which undoubtedly has the best view of any Wetherspoon pub in the UK. We ordered breakfast using the Wetherspoon Order & Pay App and friends we met there did it the old fashioned way by ordering at the bar. The online order ironically arrived first in less than 10 minutes. The other order had to be chased so there were still some teething problems, the staff are lovely though, friendly and helpful. Food and drink options are exactly what you’d expect at any Wetherspoon pub, it’s inexpensive, you get what you pay for. The view is free though and that’s what will draw me back.