Taste the difference

The Royal Oak in Hawkhurst is a charming period pub, which dates back to the 16th century, but as Eileen Leahy discovers, it has its sights set firmly on the future thanks to the clever culinary vision of its current custodian Laurence Bowes


Having both The Leicester Arms in Penshurst and The Rock Inn at Chiddingstone, chef and restaurateur Laurence Bowes certainly knows a thing or two about how to run the perfect country pub.

His latest venture is The Royal Oak in Hawkhurst, which he and his team have breathed new life into since recently taking it over.

“My recipe for success is to serve simple food that customers understand and love, using great local produce that speaks for itself and sings off the plate! Our pricing strategy is to make things affordable and great value for money.”

The menu at The Royal Oak certainly reflects this, as it changes seasonally and ensures the best of the area’s ingredients are right at its heart.

The pub’s mix of sandblasted beams, funky patterned tub chairs, a bright turquoise statement wall and oodles of light, thanks to its restored mullioned windows, certainly make it a very appealing spot to spend some time feasting in.

Browsing the menu I spot the Gazpacho chilled soup with pickled cucumber ribbon and farmhouse wedges of bread (£7), which sounds tempting given it’s summertime – as does the ‘proper pint’ of prawns served with a traditional Marie Rose sauce and lemon (£10). Eventually though, it’s the sticky pork belly bites, which are served with a rich roasted apple chutney (£8) that win me over.

These are utterly delicious and drizzled with a sweet sticky jus and a sprinkling of sesame seeds which gives the dish great texture too.

Mains at The Royal Oak range from pub classics like fish and chips (£15) to posh bacon, egg and chunky fries (£14) to plates with a little more finesse such as pan-roasted sea bass with Med-style vegetables and salsa verde (£19).

Burger lovers will be in heaven here as there are four special types on offer, including a decent veggie option. All come served with fries and homemade slaw. There are some great veggie sharing dishes on the menu too, including Padron peppers (£4.50) and the aptly named oozy mac & cheese with crispy onions (£5).

The braised short rib of Aberdeen Angus beef, which I eventually decide upon, and which comes with fluffy roasted new potatoes and crisp seasonal greens (£18), is pure perfection. The beef is cooked low and slow to achieve the best melt-in-the-mouth results, and like my starter is generous in terms of its portion size.

Amazingly I’m still able to find room for a dessert! My choice? A decadent chocolate brownie, with chocolate sauce and honeycomb ice cream.

When the homemade sweet sensation arrives it’s also super generous in size – one portion could easily have been for two. Puds here are well priced at £7.50 each and range from classics such as sticky toffee pudding and Eton Mess to lighter options like sorbet, which is £2 per scoop. There’s also a local cheese board on offer too for £9.

“All I know is how to do local,” reveals Laurence. “I have worked at various corporate levels, but now I am now running my own business I really strive to deliver great local produce, while supporting our nearby suppliers to ensure we meet customer satisfaction and affordability.”



The Royal Oak, Rye Road,
Hawkhurst, TN18 4EP.

01580 755782.


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