CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 2 Pubs Near London

Previous Pint Pleasures - February 17, 2003

guinness eileen

Malt Shovel, 3 Darenth Road, Dartford, Kent

guinness eileen

Ye Olde Six Bells, Church Road, Horley, Surrey

I know I'm confusing readers of this column. Once week I'm reviewing pubs in Sheffield and the next I'm writing about California pubs, and back and forth and back and forth until I feel like I've had too much to drink. No, I'm not madly flying back and forth...I just miss my home in Yorkshire, and I'll be back soon, so I like to write about pubs there. But while I'm in California I may as well cover pubs there as well.

So to completely confuse the issue I think I'll write about a couple of pubs near London. Dartford, in West Kent, is most famous for the Dartford Crossing, which is well known by UK motorists who drive between London and the North. The toll crossing consists of the northbound Dartford Tunnel, which passes under the Thames, and the southbound Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which passes more scenically over the Thames.

But Dartford is also a historic town dating from the Romans and features one of the first roads that linked Londinium to the Kent Coast. Today it's famous for the huge Bluewater shopping and retail complex. And there are a few nice pubs as well, including the Malt Shovel. A Young's pub, the Malt Shovel is located in a scenic location by a lush green hill. The pub has an inviting back garden and is known for its food and fine Young's beers. When we visited on a pleasant day months ago we found the pub to be warm and friendly. My friend Andrew and I stopped in with our American friend Barb to meet some Dartford friends for lunch. We all sat at a big table in the rear room where I shot impossible 360-degree panoramas of the five of us with my new digital camera. (These will appear on a future CoffeeBeer 4-dimensional gallery page, just as soon as my ISP support staff figure out how to code the superstrings.) Our lunches were enjoyable at the time --- the liver and bacon was heartily recommended by another patron, and the omelette and triple decker toasted club sandwiches were quite tasty and filling. Unfortunately two members of our party ended up with food poisoning...but alas, this is a risk any diner has to take. We suspect it might have been the ham, but then again it may have just been a mini-epidemic of stomach flu. I wasn't affected, so I can still heartily recommend the food.

On a previous trip to see my mother off at Gatwick we spent the night at the airport's Travel Inn. Since the hotels' bar, Potters, was depressing in the extreme we headed off in the car to see if we could find somewhere a bit more inviting for a pint. We happened upon the nearby town of Horley, located on the border of Surrey and Sussex. Adjacent to the 14th-century Church of St Bartholomew in Old Horley is Ye Olde Six Bells, a pub which dates from 1304. The church and pub are situated in a little side street off the main road close to the River Mole.

Although quaintly historic and low-beamed Ye Olde Six Bells is actually part of the Vintage Inns pub group which is over 200 strong. The chalkboard menu was extensive but quite appealing, and a plate of creamed potatoes which passed us as we sipped our drinks looked exquisite. Sadly our pints of Hancock HB (3.6% ABV, Bass Brewers Ltd., Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire) were overchilled; but considering our other option, which was the ice cold Boddingtons over at Potters, these hand pulled pints were relatively welcome.

On a subsequent visit we ordered lunch, which was sadly disappointing. Not bad, mind you -- just very ordinary. And our beers, once again, were tolerable but not what we would hope for. The truly bad news came when my partner's parents ordered their usual gin and tonics. They're used to getting shots of gin accompanied by little bottles of tonic so they can add tonic at their own discretion. Apparently Vintage Inns has a policy whereby mixers cannot be served on the side, so the bartenders are required to pour the mixer into the drink before serving. Imagine this couple's horror when they received their "gin and tonics" in tall glasses filled to the brim with tonic water! They could barely detect the gin. Now, is this any way to treat one's elders?

I suppose I should take some sort of comfort in the knowledge that California isn't the only place with disappointing pubs. But why waste your time when there are so many fine pubs in the world? Is it too much to ask for a decent drink?

Ah, yes, I think I need to get back to Yorkshire...