Dreaming of a Quintessential Country Christmas? Visit The Rose Inn Wickhambreaux this December and that dream will come true.
December days spent in the countryside are some of the very best. Whether it has been a Sunday spent walking wrapped up in a Barbour and donning a pair of Le Chameaus, or simply a dark wintry day in need of some cosy upliftment – ending one with the crackle of an open log fire and the gentle roar of merriment, as told through clinking glasses and jolly laughter, is sure to ignite your festive spirits like nothing else. And where better to achieve this special sensation than in a country pub oozing with years of heart-warming nostalgia and delicious food? Look no further than The Rose Inn, Wickhambreaux, one of South East Kent’s most beloved.
By Olivia Riccini
Perfectly situated for those who have braced misty walks exploring the banks of the River Stour, the village of Wickhambreaux, sits neatly in all its chocolate box glory around a medieval village green, complete with magnificent houses of architectural and historical acclaim. Attributes include a beautiful Georgian rectory, an 18th Century courthouse and towering white watermill to really set this scene, one just waiting to stage a romantic period drama. It was in this idyllic village tableau I found myself within one cold November night. Just a hop skip and a jump away from my own home, I was already familiar with the incredible transformation that The Rose has undergone this past year. Exactly one year ago, I wrote a piece for insideKENT titled New Year, New Food, a round up of brand new restaurants and dining experiences marked to set the Kent foodie scene further ablaze in 2022. And boy has chef and publican Billy Stock delivered. Professionally trained in the kitchens of some of London’s finest, Billy has indeed embraced a brand new type of venture with The Rose, yet although he may have left behind the fast-paced city life, he took the entirety of his expertise and sheer culinary genius with him to the Garden of England – ready to channel it through every aspect of The Rose’s new identity.
Once known more for its drinks than its food, The Rose has always embraced local when it came to breweries and cider makers, but with the arrival of Billy, the concept of local has been thrust into even deeper realms. As the daughter of a Kent fruit grower and a self confessed ‘locavore’, before even sitting down to eat I was already in mighty admiration of Billy’s determination and creativity when it came to seasonal, local produce. The ethos sitting at the heart of The Rose encapsulates community and locality, and when this is combined with the skills and imagination of a gastronomic maestro, surreal things happen.
The canvas for this culinary magic comes in the form of a 15th Century timber framed building. Lying in wait behind a quaintly low doorway is the ultimate country-pub haven, utterly authentic and unashamedly itself, The Rose is a place that has provided a warm hospitality for centuries. In earlier times, travellers used the pub as a stopping point on their way to Grove where the River Stour could be crossed, and today it still waits with outstretched arms – but this time with far better food and drink. History has meant that character and charm has been sealed into the very bones of The Rose, with wholesome spirit seeping vividly from every crevice, just one step over the threshold and your soul is certain to feel warmed from within.
Although complete with exposed beams, a log burner, an open fire, hanging hops and a generously stocked bar, it is an attribute put in place by Billy that the eye is immediately drawn to. Above a sprawling brick fireplace, a chalk board is mounted, and upon this Billy writes his daily menu, always inspired by the produce grown on the land and in the waters of Kent itself. There is arguably no better place to do so than the Garden of England, and when it comes to local traders and suppliers, Billy is spoiled for choice. Tonight however, chalked up in black and white, it is Westwell Wines intertwining with The Rose, an award-winning Kentish wine estate located on the chalk slopes at the foot of the North Downs in Charing.
Whichever table you may find yourself sitting at in The Rose, it is certain to have that rare appeal of being both intimate, yet a part of the inclusive atmosphere. Warmed by the log burner just metres away we clink our first glass of Westwell’s English Sparkling to toast the start of what will be an incredible six course meal. First out is pickles with Welsh rarebit, a true savoury sensation to start the meal, the zingy pickle the perfect complement to the cheese of the rarebit. From the first bite I am reminded that Billy’s food takes heavy inspiration from nostalgic British favourites, but these dishes are elevated into gastronomic pieces of heaven by the chef’s expertise and creativity. Plates are small because the quality and the richness of flavour is so sublime, every bite a sheer indulgence for the tastebuds.
Richness of flavour is carried through into the next dish, cods roe and fried potato. The fish flavour of the cods roe is strong and salty, not overwhelming but perfectly balanced, especially when paired with the fried potato: golden crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The next dish takes influence from India – curried mussel with grilled flatbread – the perfect combination of Asian spice and creamy curry combined with one of Kent’s most adored seafood specialities. The bread is fluffy and the ideal utensil to mop up the delectable curry, which is so good that not a drop can be left. Already blown away by flavour and starting to feel full, a pie that would delight the eyes of Tudor royalty is brought to the table. Encapsulating everything wonderfully English, this pie has a thick suet crust and is uniquely ensembled – its presentation is utterly wholesome and homely and tells me before even tasting it, the pie will be one of the best savoury pies I have ever eaten. Breaking the pastry lid with a satisfying crunch, the pheasant and bacon filling oozes out and a sensational savoury smell hits our nostrils. And what are a beautiful British pie’s ultimate accomplices? Crunchy fresh greens cooked to perfection and creamy mash potato – a comfort food which has been turned by Billy into dishes of culinary amazement.
To finish a seasonal meal expertly paired with wines from Westwell, a sturdy quince and apple crumble is placed upon our table, daring us to eat more divine, nostalgic and wholesome food. Drizzled with custard, this crumble has the golden ratio of sweet and sharp apple and quince flavours, it is far from either dry or sloppy in texture, which some crumbles can fall victim to. Topping the crumble off both literally and in terms of taste, the crumble topping is one of utter perfection – a sugary, oaty crunch, which encapsulates the nostalgic autumnal treat that a good crumble should be.
As we enter into a new season, I cannot implore you to book a Christmas meal at The Rose Inn more. Whether a lover of the countryside, a connoisseur of wholesome and expertly crafted food, or simply craving an inviting country bolthole to escape to, the easy charm and culinary magnificence of The Rose will have anyone falling in love and embracing the festive spirit. Take heed and do not delay: your quintessential country Christmas fit to rival The Holiday is ready and waiting for you.