- Food & Drink
There’s nothing like a long walk in the snow to build up an appetite. And there’s nothing like a sleepy commuter town on a Sunday to bring you to your knees with despair if you’re trying to find somewhere to eat. For half an hour, it looked like a chicken sandwich from the convenience store was the best we were going to get.
We’d walked 9 miles; 1 mile more than we should’ve because I can’t read maps or directions. I tried to redeem myself through the magic of iPhone and Google Maps. “I can navigate us to our final destination!” I shouted, waving my phone triumphantly. Once everyone else had looked at the map and memorised it, we set off through the final flurry of snow.
Our destination was Borough Green, a Kentish village that’s picked up enough rings of commuter housing to make it a blandly depressing finishing line. The hub of the village is the train station and we walked back and forth past it, rattling the doors of closed bars, restaurants, takeaways and cafes. Just when hope had nearly gone and the phrase: “I suppose a Ginster’s pasty would be OK,” was on our lips, we spotted a pub.
Pint of beer and a packet of crisps
It wasn’t a promising pub, marooned in a large tarmac car park with a huge, plastic Carling sign poking out above the door. We made our way past the huddle of hardened smokers into The Henry Simmons and found a string of rooms busy with blokes watching football and families eating roast dinners.
My New Year’s resolution is to not drink rubbishy lager in pubs and The Henry Simmons had two beers on tap: Greene King IPA and Hannock’s HB. I ordered a pint of Hannock’s and was rewarded with a glass of Standard Beer. It’s a bit malty, a bit hoppy and you could drink several pints without feeling the effects.
The menu was regular pub fare: pie of the day, jacket potatoes, a chicken breast in white wine sauce for the ladies and a choice of roast pork or chicken for Sunday lunch. DJ, The Enigmatic Mr S and I ordered ham, egg and chips (£5.50), Leonard ordered steak and ale pie with chips and beans (£5.95, also available with mash and veg if you’re a grown-up) and Mr B ordered the roast pork (£6.95).
About 20 minutes later I had a plate loaded with 2 thin, hand-sized slices of cold, salty ham, a pile of hot chips and 2 perfectly cooked fried eggs. It was exactly what I needed and I don’t think I’ve eaten a meal like it since I was looked after by my Granddad and his chip pan in the school holidays.
Leonard’s pie was a pool of steak and gravy topped with a jaunty little piece of puff pastry and, against all expectations, Mr B’s roast dinner was good. A selection of genuinely seasonal vegetables, huge potatoes and a Yorkshire accompanied the meat. The only disappointments were that the porky, fatty crackling was soft and the potatoes and Yorkshire were verging on burnt. I think they’d got a bit scorched as the chef tried to get the roast ready to eat at the same time as our other, easy-to-chuck together meals.
We cleared our plates in record time and then wistfully considered the possibilities of pudding. Wouldn’t it be great if they did crumble? The kitchen assistant came to clear our table.
“Do you do puddings?”
“We do. Today we have apple crumble.”
I don’t think he’s ever had an order like it. Afloat on a lake on custard (I’d guess from a tin), it was a solid chunk of sweet apples and buttery crumble. I bet it’s a treat to eat cold from the fridge for breakfast.
The Henry Simmons isn’t a destination pub. It serves plain, ordinary food at plain, ordinary prices – our meal and drinks came to about £14 a head. But what marked it out as different was that they actually seemed to cook most of their food from scratch, rather than ordering in boil-in-the-bag-lamb shanks and slow-coked venison to milk pretentious commuters. And at the end of a long, cold walk, what you want more than anything else is a pint and a plate of steaming hot chips. The Henry Simmons delivered.