The George & Dragon pub in Speldhurst has been given a new lease of life after a few members of the local community bought it three years ago. Eileen Leahy experiences a taste of this centuries-old pub’s exciting food offering, courtesy of new Head Chef Andy Billings…
The George & Dragon in Speldhurst has long been one of the area’s most popular pubs, thanks to its idyllic location, great selection of local ales and good food. Since it was bought by a group of Speldhurst locals, headed up by business entrepreneur Becky Moran and her partner, Ian, in 2019, it has gone from strength to strength, delivering customers a unique, quality drinking and dining experience.
The former coaching inn’s front-of-house team is managed by experienced hospitality expert Richard Maher, whose aim is simple: to provide customers with a memorable visit – whether they’re just popping in for a pint or gathering together for a special family occasion.
Its epicurean edge has now been further improved by the establishment’s new chef,
Andy Billings, who has come on board to give the pub’s menu just a little bit more culinary magic. He’s also been tasked with offering customers regular tasting nights, too.
On a recent Thursday night, when my husband and I paid the historic country pub a visit, it was very busy with tables in both the bar area and Buttery dining space full. We were warmly greeted by our friendly waiter for the evening and shown to our cosy corner table in the main bar area, where the fire was crackling away in the inglenook fireplace.
Once we’d been served our drinks and delivered a smorgasbord of nibbles – think hunks of fluffy, homemade focaccia and chilli and garlic infused almonds and olives, we got down to the business of scanning the menu.
At first glance it’s clear that Andy has been busy creating. Dishes like fillet of Cornish mackerel with bacon, oats and beetroot gel (£9), and Ashdown pheasant with haggis and pancetta, pheasant croquette and dirty carrot (£20) are certainly more gastro than pub grub. However, the talented chef is by no means alienating anyone, as you’ll still find classic staples, such as steak and kidney pie served with seasonal greens and mash (£17), beer battered fish and chips with mint purée (£16) and that G&D favourite, Speldhurst sausages served with creamed mash and gravy (£17).
After much deliberation, I plump for the chargrilled octopus for my starter, which comes on a bed of chickpeas with a gorgeous fresh tomato sauce swirled on top and gremolata (£9.50). With a dash of lime squeezed on, it’s a taste triumph: the octopus is silky and charred to perfection. Feeling peckish, my husband is tempted by the baked Camembert, which our waiter tells us is ideal for sharing and comes oozing with truffle honey, roasted garlic and croutons (£13.50). Momentarily mesmerised by this image, he eventually goes for the Mediterranean fish soup (£9), which is served with a traditional rouille mayo, a selection of homemade salt and cracked black pepper toasts, croutons and a sprinkling of Gruyère cheese. It is smooth, rich and perfectly executed, but incredibly filling. This would make a perfect lunch choice after a walk through the surrounding Speldhurst countryside but tonight my husband falls short of finishing it as he’s looking forward to savouring his main course: a plant based mushroom Wellington (£15) with Lyonnaise potato and seasonal veg. The accompanying jus gravy brings all these rich, earthy flavours together, resulting in a perfect meat-free dish of exceptional taste and quality.
Torn between the steak burger, which is a decadent confection featuring pulled pork and Kansas City sauce (£18), and the fish choice for the evening: salt cod, cuttlefish and ‘nduja stew (£19), I eventually choose the latter. Once again, the portion is generous and deeply flavoursome. The idea of pudding now ebbs further away.
My husband is built of stronger stuff though and so chooses the chocolate mousse and hazelnut praline (£8.50). Although I was feeling stuffed, one look at it and I was unable to resist a bite. It tastes so good and just like something you’d enjoy in a French brasserie, with a little added crunch, thanks to the sprinkles of praline. Pleasantly salted, we finish our glasses of wine, mine a light and refreshing French Picpoul de Pinet (£7) from the Languedoc and my husband’s a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand (£7.30).
We live a few minutes’ drive from The George and Dragon, but even if we didn’t, I can say that it would definitely become my local.