CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Four St Margarets-at-Cliffe Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - May 1, 2000

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The Swingate Inn, Dover-Deal Road, Westcliffe, Kent

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The Cliffe Tavern, High Street, St. Margarets-At-Cliffe, Kent

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The Red Lion, 1 Kingsdown Road, St. Margarets-At-Cliffe, Kent

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The Smugglers Pub & Restaurant, High Street, St. Margarets-At-Cliffe, Kent

Since I've spent so much of my time in England wandering around in search of Romney Marsh and Sussex pubs, I decided it was time to take a break and head north. No, I don't mean northern England; I just mean north of the Folkestone area in Kent. Dover is just up the coast from Folkestone. When you don't live in Dover there's really no good reason to drive there, except perhaps in February to attend the Winter Beer Festival. Sure, people drive up there, but then some people hammer nails into their face or rip out their own fingernails. Anyway, one day last year a friend and I headed up to Dover in search of a decent pub or two. One minute we found ourselves driving through the harbour past the famous white cliffs; and before we knew it, as probably happens to many people, we found ourselves out of Dover heading toward St. Margarets-at-Cliffe. I suppose this says something about Dover's overall impact...

But enough Dover-bashing -- let's get to the pubs. At the Swingate Inn in Westcliffe we had pints of Young's Special Bitter (4.6% ABV, Young & Company's Brewery, Wandsworth, London). This wasn't a great pint but it was definitely rhythmic. Yes, the malt and hops had a rhythm...or was it the pair of whirligig-clanking ceiling fans which danced noisily above our heads? Yes, sitting in the Swingate made me think of a drunken afternoon on an Irish friend's rooftop patio when everyone was sitting around listening to the Gypsy Kings and playing the spoons and getting drunker. It's fun at first but becomes quickly irritating.

Moving north we stopped at the Cliffe Tavern in St. Margarets-At-Cliffe. This well-known pub opposite a church is open all day and features a short little bar with short little stools. We had pints of Adnams Best Bitter (3.7% ABV, from Adnams & Company, Southwold, Suffolk). This is a good session beer; I thought it tasted like tomatoes but my companion suggested it was more a mixture of tomatoes and mustard cress. Actually it's like a light sandwich in a pint glass, only without the crunch. The Cliffe Tavern used to be known for its food, but recently my mother and her friends said the food was atrocious. And the woman who served us our pints was a bit stumped with the Herculean task of summing up £1.80 and £1.80. Don't worry -- we finally told her the answer after she'd unsuccessfully asked the audience and phoned a friend.

Down the road from the Cliffe Tavern is the Red Lion, a comfortable village pub from the early 19th century which has undergone several recent ownership changes. Here we had pints of Greene King IPA (3.6% ABV, Greene King, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk). This is another good session beer, a lean, vertical, straightforward, and tallish beer. Or do I mean tall-ISH, as the Brits say? It's the type of beer you can comfortably drink in your stocking feet.

In the center of town is the Smugglers, whose classic dark old smuggler's bar leads back into a very modern and extremely sunny restaurant. Since I'm a bit photosensitive we stayed in the dark area and had pints of Green King Triumph Ale (4.3% ABV, Greene King, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk), a rare find these days, almost wheaty in character. It tastes like a classic motorcycle, perhaps something like the gorgeous Chevy Bel Air station wagon with California plates we saw the other day near Bognor Regis. Since I was hungry I checked the lunch menu and ordered myself a rare treat for a Pacific Coaster far from home: a quesadilla! And I'm impressed: it was satisfyingly authentic! So where did they find decent tortillas in England? And what pub owner would know how to make a good quesadilla? Oh, I see, the chef is Spanish. This is a strange place, actually: unusual roundish bar, the dark, dank, seafaring atmosphere, and a Spanish chef serving tapas and Mexican food. And then there's the brightly sunlit restaurant patio in the back in stark contrast to the dark wood hole of a bar. Wait a minute -- is that Ali G who just walked in? "How can this be a Spanish bar in St. Margarets-At-Cliffe?" Is this a Spanish real ale we're drinking, Triumpho del Rey Verde?

Is anything real around St Margarets-at-Cliffe? Does Dover even exist?