Snow gives you the incentive to tidy up your photo collection, and find that I haven’t written up two pre-Christmas meals at pubs run by Italians. Nothing that unusual about that, but they’re the two main locals in my village and my in-laws in Kent.
The White Horse in Waterbeach has been through the ringer in the last decade, its food offer going from traditional pub grub place to Thai to Sicilian, each change accompanied by the inevitable expensive Greene King makeover.
For a village of less than 5,000 (since the RAF Barracks) closed, Waterbeach offers a comprehensive choice of cuisines, though with a five minute rail journey to Cambridge businesses needs to offer quality to survive.
The White Horse puts its efforts into a traditional Italian menu that beats a Pizza Express or Zizzi (the calamari is superb). That’s just as well because the beer isn’t anything special. Even if the Hook Norton guest was a Greedy Gose I’d still have stuck to the J20 and Mrs RM the Aspall.
As always, the issue is volumes; this is firmly a lager and wine pub. At least it feels like a proper pub with pool table and Sky, rather than a restaurant. Real ale sales in the village gravitate to the Sun, whose very limited food sales seem to come from Sunday roasts.
Clearly the answer is for the White Horse to add a further nine handpumps like GK seem to be doing everywhere these days.
Shepherd Neame have no such ambitions to run ale exhibition pubs. Their Imperial on the edge of Southborough Common has had a similar makeover, though like the White Horse they’ve maintained a pubby feel by keeping dining to the rear of an attractive pub. Like many a pub in the South, it does suffer from one of my bugbears though.
A week on from a cheap lunch at the White Horse, my in-laws arranged a “significant birthday”lunch at the Imperial that was possibly the meal of the year. Stunningly good fish stew and home-made fried breads from a concise menu.
It was enough to make me want to go back to visit the in-laws, along with a few of Tunbridge Wells’s newer gems. (Mrs RM may have a different view,and we know who’s in charge, don’t we ?).
Again, the cask (top pic) was average though (NBSS 2.5). Certainly not bad, but dull enough to make you wish you’d joined everyone else on the Oranjeboom/Asahi/whatever.
So two similar pubs with authentic Italian food and a proper pub buzz. Whether beer quality reflects the enthusiasm of the licensees or the locals, is hard to say. But in Cambridge, the Maypole went from basic Pubmaster backstreet local to one of the great pubs when it went free a few years ago.