A Kentish Hidden Gem: The Grove Ferry
Set on the tranquil banks of the beautiful River Stour, The Grove Ferry is tucked neatly away, peaceful and pretty, and full of the joys of Kent.
by Lisamarie Lamb
There are pigs and chickens in the garden (and a rooster named Elvis), fresh herbs and vegetables growing, a lovely deck from which patrons can watch the world go by as the narrow boats trundle down the river, and a feeling of having all the time in the world to enjoy either the lovely pub gardens or the comfortable, cosy interior.
In fact, even if it is chilly, customers can still relax on the terrace; there are warm blankets available for anyone to use if they fancy taking in the fresh air into the autumn months.
And that sort of attention to detail, that kind of kindness, is what sets The Grove Ferry apart from many other restaurant pubs around. There is a chess board for customers to enjoy – when I visited the chefs and waiting staff made a move when they passed, but anyone could join in. There is food for the pigs (called Pickle, Sam, and Bilbo) so you can enjoy feeding them before feeding yourself. There are dog biscuits ready for man’s best friend. There is anything and everything that anyone could need to enjoy either a quick drink, a leisurely meal, a stunning private party, or even a gorgeous overnight stay (The Grove Ferry is a hotel as well with rustic yet comfortable rooms ready to welcome guests).
Head chef, Mark Hewitt, has created a menu full of classic British dishes with a modern and exciting – and tasty – twist. What’s really wonderful about all of the food served at The Grove Ferry is that everything is local. Some of it comes from the village butcher, some from Whitstable (the fish is excellent there), and some of it is even closer to home – the pub’s chickens provide the eggs and the allotment provides the veg. This is local sourcing down to a fine art.
Food may be the main draw when coming to The Grove Ferry, but there is a superb drinks menu too, featuring some intriguing cocktails (thanks to mixologist and cocktail king John Simpson) featuring locally grown lavender and some terrific cask ales from the pub’s very own taproom. From traditional Kentish ales, guest ales, and international lagers (from local brewery, Shepherd Neame), there is something for everyone to enjoy, whether you prefer the crisp tang of a fresh and feisty lager or the long, lingering taste of a delicately flavoured ale.
The insideKENT team visited as a group to say goodbye to two of our staff who are moving on to new and exciting things, and it was at The Grove Ferry that we chose to have our get-together. Pulling up to the pub and hotel, I was impressed by how pretty it looked; like an old country house rather than a pub, but no less welcoming for that. Various boards outside let me know where to go, who to look out for, and what to see, and, after a quick glance at the pigs opposite the front door, I went in to find the rest of our party. We were seated on a lovely long table with views out over the Great River Stour – we probably even saw Pete the ferryman glide along, although we weren’t aware of him at the time (if you time your visit right, you can enjoy a lovely trip along the river with Pete before or after your meal).
The dining room is light and bright, with large picture windows letting in the wonderful view. It’s not crowded either, which is always a bonus; no one wants to eat a meal, no matter how good it is, with the worry of someone else’s elbow entering their own personal space, or the fear of a chair pushed back at the wrong moment crashing into one’s own. No fear of that at The Grove Ferry; it is spacious yet, thanks to the wooden flooring, the warm cherry colourings, and the traditional décor, it doesn’t feel too big. It feels, if anything, like a cosy little village pub where the locals might gather of an evening and where stories and friendships could be made.
Since we were a fairly large party, and since we all had varying tastes – and because we wanted to try a wide range of delicacies from the menu – we had a varied selection of dishes to enjoy. My personal choice was the breaded whitebait. It was served in a tall glass dish which, joyfully, made me think of ice cream (always a pleasure). The whitebait came with a homemade tartar sauce which was zingy and delicious, full of sharp capers and tangy gherkins with just the right amount of lemon that complemented the fish beautifully. Other starters included a warm goats’ cheese and beetroot mousse stack with red onion marmalade, a black pudding Scotch egg with pickle chutney, a fragrant tomato soup with a warmed ciabatta loaf, and a mouth-watering chicken Caesar salad with anchovies and shaved parmesan.
Starters over, and the atmosphere was just right for a good chat with friends, and the staff, although attentive, were happy to leave us to do just that without making us feel rushed. When we were ready, the main courses were brought out, each one looking and smelling as good as we’d hoped. Most popular with our group was the pulled hog burger, served with perfectly cooked chips (sprinkled with spicy paprika for an added kick). The meat was succulent and the sweet barbecue sauce that came with it added a nice depth to the burger. It was all presented so wonderfully too – the chips came in an enamel cup, and the plates – big plates – were mismatched so that the entire feel was one of a friend’s dinner party where one could enjoy everything that was going on. Other dishes we enjoyed were the fish finger sandwich (with an adult element of tartar sauce and rocket), the juicy beef burger in a brioche bun with relish, and good old bangers and mash!
By this time in proceedings we were all feeling rather full, so we decided to go and visit the pigs whilst we waited for dessert. For entertainment value these creatures cannot be beaten, and I think we will all have fond – and funny – memories of Bilbo and his pals for many years to come…
And so to dessert. What a treat! Decadent triple chocolate brownies with smooth vanilla ice cream; sticky toffee pudding with the most wonderful caramel sauce; lemon posset with homemade shortbread and a limoncello sorbet; a huge wedge of creamy cheesecake… The puds finished off the meal in fine style, and, despite feeling full, we all managed to finish everything off.
The Grove Ferry is a fantastic place to enjoy a good, fresh, locally sourced and home-cooked meal in the company of friends. It’s a great place to enjoy a drink – no matter what your favourite tipple may be. And it’s a beautiful place to simply enjoy what Kent has to offer.
The Grove Ferry