Eileen Leahy pays a visit to The George & Dragon in Speldhurst to experience a taste of this historic pub’s exciting new food offering courtesy of its Head Chef Andy Billings which includes an adventurous everyday menu and special gastro tasting events…
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.
And 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 are just popping in for a pint after a country walk or gathering together for a special family occasion.
That, along with a continuously excellent serving of quality locally sourced dishes, an extensive drinks list and an unrivalled alluring ambience, courtesy of roaring open fires in the winter and a great pub garden to hang out in the summer, has seen it attracting more visitors from both near and far than ever before.
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. The last one took place on Thursday February 23 where guests dined on a series of delicious dishes including pan seared pigeon with carrot purée, crab pasty with apple and fennel jam as well as roast pork belly braised with white cabbage and black pudding.
On the night my husband and I paid a visit to The George and Dragon – a chilly Thursday in early February – the establishment was also very busy with tables in both the bar area and Buttery dining space nearly 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 & pancetta, pheasant croquette and dirty carrot (£20) are certainly more gastro than pub grub. However the talented chef is by no means alienating any diners 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 and 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 on a chilly winter’s day 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. On the night we visit this includes shards of roasted parsnips and crispy kale. The accompanying jus gravy brings all these rich, earthy flavours together resulting in a perfect meat-free winter 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; a salt cod, cuttlefish and Nduja stew (£19), I eventually choose the latter purely because after all that delicious homemade focaccia I’m feeling fairly full and want to leave room for dessert. Once again, the portion is generous and deeply flavoursome and the idea of pudding now ebbs further away.
My husband is built of stronger stuff and so chooses the chocolate mousse and hazelnut praline (£8.50). Although I was feeling stuffed one look at it and I find myself 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 sated, we finish our glasses of wine; mine is 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) which have both been perfect choices for our dishes.
We’re fortunate to live a few minutes’ drive from The George and Dragon but even it we didn’t I can fairly say that it would definitely become my local…