Original article from Kent Live
The past year has been a difficult one for pubs up and down the UK.
But as reopening creeps over the horizon, Estrella Damm's best 50 gastropubs list has given us some pointers on where to go for a good meal once we're allowed to.
Far from your local greasy spoon, the pubs on this list offer some of the UK's very best food, and the 2021 edition of the gastropub rankings has reflected well on the culinary delights on offer in Kent.
Voted for by industry experts, food critics, gastropub operators, celebrity chefs and pub guide editors, the list is a reflection of the tastes of some of the UK's most senior figures in the pub and restaurant business.
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With establishments in London and East Sussex making appearances on the list too, there's plenty of choice for those willing to travel for a good bite to eat.
However with Kent's pubs all placing within the top 25, there's all the more reason to stick to what the Garden of England has to offer.
Without further ado, here are the Kent Pubs that made the top 50, according to Estrella Damm.
The Sportsman, Seasalter – No. 1
A returning champion, The Sportsman has been crowned the UK's best gastropub several times before – in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, and now 2021.
A track record like that speaks for itself, but the pub just outside of Whitstable is well known for its rich menu, crafted by its owner to be as distinctly local as possible, using local meats and salt sourced directly from the coast.
From a summery rhubarb soufflé with rhubarb ripple ice cream, to a roast saddle of Monkshill farm lamb with mint sauce, The Sportsman offers lively reinterpretations of British classics from this self-proclaimed "grotty boozer by the sea."
Holding a Michelin star since 2008, and withsurprisingly affordable prices for a restaurant of this calibre, it is an understatement to say The Sportsman is well worth a visit – if you can manage to get a table.
The Compasses Inn, Crundale – No. 8
With the authenticity and charm of a traditional country pub, The Compasses Inn strikes a balance between being a genuine local pub, serving regulars and locals, whilst serving an elevated menu with high-quality grub.
Though a relative newcomer in the gastropub world, only gaining recognition as recently as 2016, thanks to the Great British Pub Awards granting it the title of Best Food Pub, The Compasses Inn is no slouch.
Tied to Shepherd Neame, and offering popular beers and affordable wines, The Compasses Inn offers a mighty bang for your buck, with most mains being between £13 and £19, including offerings like roast Crundale pigeon with confit potatoes, and guinea fowl terrine with crispy sweetcorn and soused red onion.
The authentic atmosphere, simple presentation and top-notch food make The Compasses Inn an unpretentious gem in the heart of the Kent countryside.
The Kentish Hare, Tunbridge Wells – No. 13
An established duo of two brothers, James and Chris Tanner, have been in the gastropub business for more than two decades.
They have been at The Kentish Hare since 2014.
A smart yet homely establishment, the pub was rescued from demolition, renovating the site that was originally going to be turned into a block of flats.
Working collaboratively in the kitchen, the brothers haven't lost the spirit of what a pub should be, and in spite of the impressive food on offer, there is a 50:50 split of dining and bar space, maintaining the feeling of a proper community pub.
Offering two courses for between £24 and £28, and three courses for £27-£35, the Tunbridge Wells-based pub is by no means extortionate, and alongside Portland harbour crab and 45-day-aged rump steak, they have vegan and vegetarian offerings.
Though the brothers have made a name for themselves with The Kentish Hare, don't dally on paying it a visit, as the duo are ambitious and are keen to take their expertise to a new location – so make sure you pay it a visit sooner rather than later.
The Fordwich Arms, Fordwich – No. 16
Based in the smallest town in the UK, The Fordwich Arms is as remarkable as it's home is diminutive.
Having risen up the gastropub rankings from 42nd to 16th in recent years, The Fordwich Arms is very much a rising star, finding its place in a beautifully renovated red-brick building on the River Stour.
Offering several tasting menus, including a duo of vegetarian offerings, the pub doesn't pull any punches, its largest six-course culinary journey comes to £75, and includes duck liver parfait, raw Orkney scallop and line caught turbot with mussels, cabbage, smoked bacon and vin jaune.
Only two miles from Canterbury, don't let The Fordwich Arms' humble setting fool you – this gastropub is a big deal.