Food review: The White Horse, Dover
- Credit: Archant
Visit The White Horse in Dover for a slice of ancient and contemporary history, a huge welcome and hearty, homely cooking without any airs and graces
Sitting in the shadow of Dover Castle and beside the ruins of a Norman church, the Grade II-listed White Horse Inn dates back to 1365 and was originally home to the churchwarden at next door neighbour St James'.
It took its first recorded steps as an 'Ale tasting house' in 1574 and records show that the cellar was used as a morgue, with inquests on bodies recovered from the sea said to have been heard in the rear dining rooms.
As if that isn't quirky enough, inside you'll find literally every wall covered in messages from cross-Channel swimmers.
The tradition began in 2002 when two Australian brothers did the swim and were so chuffed they signed a wall. Today there are very few spaces left, but My Blonde Mate and I did spot one square with 'Space reserved for D. Walliams' written in red. Let's hope the actor/author bags it soon.
We perched on stools up at the bar and the very lovely Kerry Dyer soon had large gins in our hands from the frankly astonishingly vast selection. Opting for Kentish varieties, I had the Chapel Down Bacchus and MBM a Greensand Ridge Raspberry Ghost. There are similarly huge lists if rum or vodka is your tipple.
A steady stream of drinkers started coming in, including several solo females en route to exotic places, who clearly felt as immediately at home as we did.
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Landlords Stuart Fox and Julian Crowley don't have pub backgrounds but Stu was a nurse in his former life and Dover-born and bred Jules (now the chef) is an ex-P&O European Ferries purser/catering officer, so they have people skills in abundance.
And it shows. Under their watch, which began in in September 2012 when they decided to take on 'this fine old girl' (Jules' description), The White Horse has become a proper locals pub; not a fine dining sort of pub, but a genuinely welcoming, friendly and down-to-earth one.
Decor is traditional: mahogany tables and chairs, tartan settles, a busy patterned carpet. There's even a dumb waiter and when you spot the almost vertical stairs up to the kitchen you can see why Jules - 15 stone when they opened - has lost three stone just through all the running up and down. Steep stone steps also lead up to the pretty upper terrace, which is very popular in summmer.
By the time we'd finally peeled ourselves away from the bar, the restaurant area was bursting at the seams with happy diners. It was a greyish Monday. Says it all.
There are no starters and you can soon see why - my dressed crab served in its shell with coleslaw, salad and new potatoes was a huge and tasty plateful chosen from the specials board. Blondie even had a burger and chips, a very rare sight indeed.
Customer favourites include a home-made Steak and Guinness pie and classic beer-battered cod and chips. Suppliers are all local. O'Brien's of Dover is their butcher, Katies Greengrocer in River supplies the fruit and veg, Vanes the Bakers in Dover provides the bread and some desserts, fish is from Lazy Lobster in Detling.
A glass of Chapel Down Bacchus apiece later and we were ready for afters - mine a rather sloppy panna cotta with, sadly, frozen fruit, and MBM's a hearty butterscotch and toffee pud with hot custard.
As our taxi sped us to the train station, we felt as happy and relaxed as if we'd spent an evening out with mates. Loved it here.
What: Welcoming friendly 'locals' pub in a quirky historic building with roof terrace
Where: The White Horse, St James Street Castle Hill Road, Dover CT16 1QD
When: Mon, Tues, Thurs 12pm-2.30pm and 5.30pm-8.30pm, Wed kitchen closed, Fri and Sat 12pm-2.30pm and 5.30pm-8pm, Sun 12pm-2pm
How much: Beer-battered cod and chips £14, chilli con carne £10.50, bangers n' mash £9.95