Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Grove Ferry Inn

If you follow the undulating curve of the Great Stour out of Canterbury, past the lakes and through the meadows and fields you will come to the village of Upstreet.  Nestled on the banks of the river, amongst the boats and skiffs that are moored to the jetty's lies the Grove Ferry Inn.
This sprawling pile of a pub, covered in trailing ivy with the porch lit by two great lanterns, lies next to the picnic site of the same name, a name taken from the hand drawn ferry that used to cross the river at this point.  The ferry was the only way for carts to be able to cross the river and they used to cross from right outside the front of the pub.  The whole area is stunningly beautiful, backing onto the Stodmarsh Nature Reserve. 
After a hot, sticky, sweaty day in the sun at the warehouse, lifting and carrying, shoving and stacking, Steve, Sinead, Nick and I sought much needed refuge at the Grove Ferry for some dinner, beers and relaxation in the late afternoon sun.
The Grove Ferry is a huge site, comprising of the main pub and B&B, the decking area, the field, the pig sty and chicken coop and the meadow bar.  There is a farm shop as well and it is obvious that this was the kind of place that families come to in the morning and will probably still be here when it was time to put the (completely exhausted from running around all day) kids to bed!  The hen coop and pig sty are particularly fascinating for the little ones, especially as the pub is currently running a competition to name the chickens, which roam freely around the garden.  If you are lucky, the manager, Lucy, with her infectious laugh and twinkling sense of fun, may even give you a hosepipe, tell you to point it at the pigs and make 'em happy as a pig in mud!  There are also goats for mowing the lawn (and occassionally breaking into the resturant at breakfast time to try and steal the food - the staff are trying to ban them but they are slippery little buggers).
The Grove Ferry has had a tough year - the winter floods affected the pub badly, drowning the garden under water and just when the water levels had finally rescinded and the pub was starting its repairs, a fire broke out in one of the linen cupboards upstairs.

Throughout it all though, the pub has retained the sense of humour that is so evident throughout, even serving cream teas out to customers sat on tables in the river garden during the floods!  There is a wonderful, personal vibe throughout the Grove Ferry, with humourous messages on chalkboards everywhere.
The Grove Ferry building itself was originally built in 1831 as part of a lavender farm that dominated the surrounding countryside.  The staff at the pub are all well versed in the history of the building and the surrounding areas and are happy to chat with curious people.  It is obvious how much they all love their jobs and their pub; it is clearly very happy place to work!
We were hungry, really really hungry so we hopped up to the bar and ripped some menu's off the sheets.  I like this way of ordering - you take one menu for the whole table, grab a pencil and write your table number on the top (we had to move from the garden to the deck for this as they only serve food from the Messy Hog Bar, which had just closed for the day, in the garden).  Everyone then selects what they want on the menu by ticking the circules next to the options.  You hand the completed sheet back to your waitress and wait for the food to come out!
I ordered the Messy Hog burger; a mass of pork in a BBQ sauce with stuffing, onions, chips and parsnip chips.  It was quite late in the day and the waitress let me know that they had run out of onions and parsnip chips, which was fine, but you don't get a discount on the burger, or a substitute for another ingredient.  They were upfront about this before I ordered though.
The burger was tasty; moist and smokey without being overpoweringly sweet and I think was about £12 in total.  Sinead had the jerk chicken burger and considering how quiet she was for the next 10 minutes, I think it's safe to say she enjoyed it!
Both the boys ordered from the British Tapas menu; an intriguing idea of small, bitesize British classics that you can share amongst a group.  They ordered the whitebait, beer battered cod goujons, black pudding scotch egg and beef and stilton croquets (with an un-British side of olives).
I must confess, I had a major case of food envy over the Scotch egg.  It's not the first time that has happened - I need to start remembering to actually order them in pubs!

Steve was the only one of us who had room for pudding, and after perusing the menu for a while, he asked the waitress for what was basically an amalamation of two of the waffle desserts available.  She was more than helpful, and made sure that he got exactly what he wanted; a hot toasted waffle with vanilla and raspberry icecream, strawberry crushed biscuit and masses of chocolate sauce and mixed berries.
I didn't actually get a look in on this - it was hoovered away!

I wish I could put my finger on what makes this pub so special.  The people are friendly and funny, the inside is warm and comforting, the outside is breathtakingly beautiful.  They keep animals and grow their own herbs and vegetables in the garden.  They have a forager on the staff for Sunday lunches.  They have a lot of pride in their pub.
Inside the decor is quirky and friendly, with home dried hops on the ceiling and home made cakes by the tills.
It feels like spending a day at home, it is that easy to relax at the Grove.  There is a real sense of family here.
Right next to the bar is the farm shop and cafe, where they sell a broad selection of goods, most of which are made on the property.  There is a freezer stuffed with meats and pies, homemade jams and chutneys, tea from a British company, a fully stocked sweet shop window and local wines, beers and ales, all of which you can also drink in the bar!
I suppose if you are being cynical, you could say that at the end of the day the Grove Ferry Inn is another Shepherd Neame pub, and you would be right.  However, this pub is bursting at the seams with personality - it is more than just a pub.  It is a pub, an inn, a shop, a B&B, a farm, an advocat of organic, freerange, foraging life.  There aren't many places you can go to around here where a chicken will sit at your table with you, or a goat will try and pinch a chip, or you may watch the staff go chasing after a pig as it vaults its pen and makes a break for the feedbags.
The Grove Ferry is lucky; it is situated in some of the most picturesque and idllyic surroundings you could possibly ask for, but it doesn't rest on its laurels.  It knows that there is more to a good pub than a pretty visage.  The food and drink needs to be good, the service needs to be friendly, there needs to be personality and humour and people need to feel welcome when they step through the front door.
Personally, I think that the Grove Ferry have cracked it.
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