A centuries-old Kent pub that hit hard times is cutting the mustard again, thanks to a shabby-chic makeover and food from a Gordon Ramsay-trained chef
I can’t really claim any credit for discovering “the Woolly”. We were invited to a wedding and it’s run by the same family that own the wedding venue.
From Ashford station, our taxi wound past tangled hedgerows and half-timbered houses to picturesque Tenterden and this lopsided-looking 15th-century inn, once used by drovers taking sheep to market.
The Woolpack had fallen on hard times but landlord Rob Cowan, who breeds pigs as well as hosting weddings on his farm nearby, saw its potential. A shabby-chic makeover – lick of Farrow and Ball paint, homemade sausages for that field-to-fork tag – and the Woolly was up and running again last year.
It has a higgledy-piggledy charm, and food that’s a step up from your average gastropub, courtesy of new chef Josh Fallon (who did a stint at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze in Mayfair). Think roast pigeon breast, celeriac dauphinoise, smoked parsnip, cherries, girolles and port reduction, washed down with local wines. Tenterden is surrounded by vineyards and the Woolly buys from Chapel Down and Biddenden Vineyards, both open to visitors.
In the bar, the uneven flagstone floor is scattered with weathered leather armchairs and old wooden tables topped with wine bottles streaked with wax. Nooks, crannies and a log fire make it cosy.
Coir matting-clad stairs creak up to the six rooms. All are different in style and colour scheme (mine was calamine lotion, unfortunately conjuring memories of childhood sunburn), with sloping ceilings – and floors. Rooms at the front face the High Street; those at the back, like mine, look over 12th-century St Mildred’s church. My huge bed had a faded floral bedspread with piles of pillows, and there was a mannequin in the corner of the room.
After the wedding at Brick House Farm – a Darling Buds fantasy with ducks, chickens and pond – we got back to the Woolly about midnight. The bar was still buzzing – there’s regular live music and it has lost none of its pubbyness. Collapsing on to my marshmallow mattress, I lost consciousness to laughter drifting up from the bar – and woke to ringing bells. If my headache had been worse I might not have appreciated the impressive – and lengthy – performance, but luckily I love the sound of church bells.
Straggling down to breakfast, a few of our party looked a little green but most managed the full fry-up, including sausages of unimpeachable provenance and barely a tiptoe of a carbon footprint.