The Spotted Dog

Smarts Hill Penshurst near Tunbridge Wells Kent TN11 8EP

Fronted by its distinctive sign, the Spotted Dog is the kind of village inn that dreams are made of. A fifteenth-century free house, converted from a number of clapboard cottages, it’s near enough to Tunbridge Wells and some major tourist attractions (including Hever Castle) to be a brilliant stop off on any tour of the Kentish Weald – but even if it were way off the beaten track it would be well worth beating a path to get here.  It’s particulary cosy in winter, as all country pubs should be, when the low beamed warren of rooms are warmed by crackling log fires. Step outside, however, and it’s the back garden that really takes your breath away, raked down a hillside and with vast green views across the surrounding Weald. Sitting out here on a summer Sunday, pint in hand and muddy dog at your feet, it feels as though life just doesn’t get much better. There are always at least four real ales on offer – a fine black porter from the local Larkins brewery is a splendid option on a winter’s afternoon – but where the Spotted Dog really excels is with its fine food. Listed on a regularly changing menu, this is wholesome British pub grub at its best – big on meat and fish dishes, hearty, filling and using good local ingredients. Pies, whitebait, sausages and mash are all great, and the ham hock with mash was reported by one of our reviewers to be the best he'd ever had (it would certainly have been one of the biggest). Slightly more exotic-sounding options might include Mediterranean-style lamb with a feta and watermelon salad, and there’s usually a curry option. It’s a good idea to book for Sunday lunch, when the Spotted Dog hums with the the chatty conviviality that so many country pubs aspire to but few achieve.

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