There’s nothing like a cosy pub to hunker down in during the festive season – especially when it serves delicious, crowd-pleasing and award-winning food, as Victoria Roberts discovered when she shored up at the Blue Anchor in Crowborough…
There are two ways into the Blue Anchor pub in Crowborough. You can come in past the beer garden and sheltered outdoor table area – ideal for rainy days in the summertime. But the front door is the proper entrance into the oldest and warmest part of the pub, when at this time of year you are, quite literally, coming in from the cold…
With its low ceiling, brick floor and glass-fronted stove, you immediately know after a busy week this is exactly where you want to be as it’s such a perfect pub to unwind in.
When my dining companion and I stepped over the threshold of the Blue Anchor everyone else was doing just that. The pub was celebrating ‘Cinco de Maya’ – or the Day of the Dead – and all the staff were dressed up ‘al estilo mexicano’, serving a special fiesta menu. Yet all of the traditional hospitality was still available, so there were plenty of dishes to choose from.
We started with a couple of pints from the bar, a Whitstable Bay Pale Ale and an Orchard View cider from the pub’s landlord brewery Shepherd Neame. I’m no beer drinker, but it was a pleasure to find a cider with a good bite.
We then headed into the dining room to a table, which kept us cosy for a couple of hours thanks to its close proximity to the nearby stove, and we set about perusing the extensive menu. Guests came and went, piling onto the generous-sized tables, some just drinking, some enjoying a three-course meal. The atmosphere was buzzing – it’s been a long time since we had been somewhere so free-and-easy.
With the normal bill of fare and the ‘Cinco de Maya’ treats to choose from, my guest and I enjoyed mixing-and-matching both menus.
Despite the refined flavours and varied ingredients on the menu, I’m pleased to report the portions were absurdly, superbly and very nicely generous. Perhaps we ought not to have had starters, but then we would have missed the scallops and mackerel!
The scallops, which were served with celeriac purée, Granny Smith apple, raisin gel and black pudding crumb (£12.95) slipped down neatly. And the celeriac purée had a pleasant yet unexpected savoury tang to it.
My choice was the mackerel, whose umami Marmite glaze was nicely offset by the cucumber – both fresh and slightly bitter from being ‘torched’. The dish also came with beetroot ketchup, crispy leeks and baby leaves (£9.50)
Yet when our main courses of 12-hour pork belly and beef fajitas arrived, we were too tempted to leave them on the plate such was their presentational perfection.
The 12-hour pork belly came with pomme anna, creamed leek & savoy cabbage, caramelised apple purée and a red wine jus (£16.95). Every bite of it was a pure delight.
The sizzling beef fajitas, from the evening’s specially themed menu, were served up with a hearty combo of rice, refried beans, salsa, guacamole and soured cream (£19.50 for one or £38 to share).
Our delicious food was accompanied by musicians Joyride Duo, who played numbers from the likes of The Beatles and George Michael to Oasis in the corner of the dining room.
When you’re in the Blue Anchor’s company it’s very easy to see why it’s been the recipient of the prestigious Beautiful South’s Pub of the Year award for the past two years.
During dinner, other diners and drinkers were still coming and going, and unlike a lot of places, there seemed no pressure to ‘move on’ for another sitting or an impatient group at the Blue Anchor.
There seems to be no particular age for the clientèle either. The pub appears to be as popular with the twenty-something crowd having a few drinks and a bite to eat together after the working week – as with, ahem, older people, who are eating at their leisure.
Unfortunately, even this relaxed approach to our dining could not help me make it to dessert. My dining companion however smugly polished off a serving – again, a generous one – of dark and white chocolate feuillettine torte which was enhanced by mango gel and passionfruit sorbet (£8.95). While he savoured every last spoonful, I had a coffee – and sighed over the lack of sticky date pudding which comes with toffee sauce and honeycomb ice cream (£7.95).
Finally, as with the best sort of pub where it’s so pleasant to spend time in, we knew we had to go. There is a good-sized car park, and decent pavements for anyone lucky enough to be able to arrive – and depart – on foot. Perhaps it’s time for you to make your own way there, too?