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The George and Dragon

Location: Speldhurst, a few miles west of Tunbridge Wells.

Purportedly, the George and Dragon is the second-oldest pub in the country. Whether or not is it, it is a wonderful cluster of somewhat low-ceiled modestly-sized timber-framed rooms, a cozy place for a drippy afternoon. It's the village pub, in addition to being recommended for its food, and it feels accessible with its lack of tableclothes and small scale. Small bowls of sea salt and coarsely-ground pepper showed where its food pretensions lay.

Bread is extra, but excellent. The delicate foccaccia had crystalized with oil on the top. Larger slices of white bread were the perfect balance between tender and robust enough to stand up to the rigors of buttering. For once, there was exactly the right amount of both butter and oil-and-balsamic for dipping. Olives came with the bread, well-flavored, but not as compulsively edible - for us - as the bread.

The pub focuses on local foods, but not exclusively. Ours mostly came from nearby Groombridge, where we'd been just the day before. (Well, we were on a train switching sidings there. We never left the train.) Our drinks, in contrast, had traveled from Devon in order to be available for our consumption. The appetizers were the best part of the meal for me. Mine was a passel of barely-cooked, crisp new asparagus, vivid against the pale white of a perfectly-poached egg and the pale yellow of a delicate, fresh hollandaise sauce and a light dusting of pepper. Never before has a dish featuring hollandaise sauce struck me as downright refreshing. C.'s starter was a sumptuous pot of rabbit terrine with a vivid, chunky chutney involving eggplants, compilable with a bit of dressed salad and toasted crusty bread. I settled for trying the rabbit with a bit of chutney, a beautiful medley of meaty sweetness with the vinegared piquancy of the chutney.

We both had the slow-roasted pork belly as a main. Fork-tender meat fell off the annoyingly-leathery surface which could have been crackling. It was crowned with a small dollop of rough-cut applesauce and dripping with a rich, full-bodied gravy, which doubled as sauce for the carrots, pickled beet slices, and perfect roast potatoes. In the end, we were far too full for the highly-recommendd desserts. I'd been daydreaming in advance of something rhubarby; it's newly in-season, and I love it and C. doesn't. But no - too full from everything else, my rhubarb treats of spring must await another meal.

The pub was clearly doing lively lunchtime business. We were probably in a minority in not having booked, but they had space for us. Service was reliably friendly and accurate, although busy enough that I was glad for all our sakes that nothing went wrong with the meal.

Warmed by good food, good service, a comfortable environment, we went back out into a scenic village with verdant spring-touched trees, and the chilly drizzle of a rain that's settled in for the day.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
desperance
May. 3rd, 2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
See now, if you'd gone east (I think) of Tunbridge Wells, you'd have been in Brenchley instead...

I'm not sure if Brenchley has any ancient and foodie pubs, but at least if I were there - if it were Chaz Brenchley - your pork rind would have crackled and crunched. Leathery? Bah!
owlfish
May. 3rd, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
The Halfway House in Brenchley does sound pretty good!

http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/19/19248/Halfway_House/Brenchley

I do love crackling and the guidebook had specifically promised that The George and Dragon did the "cracklingest of crackling" so I had high hopes. Alas, it was not to be; that was the low point of the meal.

The Halfway House looks like the most highly recommended place, but there are a few other things in the village:
http://www.brenchleyandmatfield.co.uk/content/welcome-brenchley-parish-website

Edited at 2010-05-03 06:04 pm (UTC)
desperance
May. 3rd, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
I did spend an hour in Brenchley a while back, after a conference i Tunbridge Wells. It's very odd, seeing your own name everywhere - Brenchley Parish Church! Brenchley Post Office! It's mine, I tell you, it's all mine...!
gillpolack
May. 3rd, 2010 09:51 pm (UTC)
Why am I not tempted to lay claim to all Polack jokes?
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )