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.