The Royal Oak at New Ash Green
Bags of charm, a friendly welcome, and some mighty fine food – what more could you ask of dinner?
Working in the gastropub game is not an easy life choice, and deciding to take the reins at a place that’s been formerly let down in terms of both management and a general lack of imagination is even more risky. Thank goodness for the sheer determination, passion, and skill and experience therefore of father and son team, Simon and Dan Barton, who not only took those reins at The Royal Oak at New Ash Green, but are currently on course to steer the pub straight into pole position.
Having honed his hospitality and management skills far and wide it was a calling back to his Kentish roots that led Simon to The Royal Oak, while Dan had independently risen through the ranks of cheffing, developing a flair for good, wholesome food with a modern twist.
The pair could instantly see the potential in The Royal Oak and, following a refurbishment, have relaunched the pub with a host of locally produced ales, wines and spirits and a tempting new menu.
Entering the modern gastropub, we were immediately caught up in the welcoming atmosphere of locals chatting at the bar over their favourite Kentish tipple and midweek diners, most of whom (credit to the team) were returning guests. My guests and I were happily settled at a corner table for four where we were assisted in our menu choices not only by Dan himself, but also by neighbouring diners who raved about their own menu options with such enthusiasm that my decisions were promptly reinforced.
First up, an oozing baked camembert served with crostini, apple, celery and a zingy sweet red onion chutney; a platter of wild boar and fennel salami, prosciutto, grissini and goats cheese with a rich fig jam; crispy fried, fresh baby squid with lemon aioli and, me personal choice, a large, perfectly cooked scotch egg encased in generously seasoned pork with a thin and crispy crumb.
After a chorus of mutual ‘mmms’, we were more than ready to devour our next course: one ‘filth burger’ – a heaving bun containing a homemade beef patty, chilli beef, chorizo and guacamole served with crispy sweet potato fries and fresh coleslaw; one chicken breast burger – a juicy chicken breast served with melting cheddar cheese, chilli jam and chunky chips; the braised lamb shank – a tender shank served with a mound of leek mash, crispy parsnip chips and red cabbage; and, finally, my own choice – the low-and-slow pork belly with proper crispy crackling and delicious apple sauce, all served atop a heap of potatoes. The lamb and the pork both tied for best dish of the evening.
Of course tempted by pud we couldn’t resist the allure of the dessert menu opting for the winter berry Eton mess, the banoffee pie and the chocolate brownie – all three were as tasty as they were heaving with sweet, satisfying flavours.
With their first winter season behind them and a headstrong breeze through spring, there are now further plans to fully utlise the garden at The Royal Oak for a summer of alfresco dining, bbqs and music festivals; it’s clear to see why this little gem is only going in one direction – up.
The Royal Oak
New Ash Green, Kent