The car is winding through the beautiful Kent countryside. I'm now well off the beaten track.... seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The comfort of two laned tarmac clad roads has long since been replaced by a single lane 'track' threading it's way through fields and woods which every now and again give just the briefest blurred glimpse of one stunning ancient home after another as we speed our way along at some speed. I'm late. I have a table booked for lunch at quarter to two, and I've miscalculated how far away it is. A pretty village crossroads just comes into view through the trees.
"In 100 yards, turn Left" announces the unflappable voice of the Sat-Nav. I carry out the instruction and my destination, The Fitzwalter Arms becomes apparent at the end of a sleepy village road.
It's exactly quarter to two, perfect. I park and take in my surroundings. Goodnestone is the kind of sleepy hamlet you imagine belonging to an England long past. The pub, obviously the heart of the village is situated next to a lovely old church, ancient tombstones lean this way and that at impossible angles, a pheasant struts urgently and pecks in the grass amongst the graves.
The beautiful pungent and distinct smell of woodsmoke fills the air and there is complete silence, Incredible silence in fact, broken only by gentle birdsong. I'm charmed. Goodnestone feels like life hasn't changed here for hundreds of years, and I love it.
The Fitzwalter Arms has a bit of a reputation. The Chef David Hart has previously worked at the renowned Sportsman in Whitstable, and it's sister restaurant The Granville as well as The Square in London. The pub is also mentioned in Diane Henry's rather useful book 'The Gastropub cookbook, another helping'. I am looking forward to lunch immensely.
Entering, past the pile of muddy Wellington boots in the porch, and through the heavy wooden door into the bar, where a solitary regular is whiling away the hours; propping it up. An ancient clock ticks heavily, and a real fire lazily pops and crackles in the fireplace. It all feels rather cosy.
We are greeted cheerily and shown through into a bright but fairly unadorned and simple dining room, with windows overlooking the graveyard next door. There is a large table of happy diners in evidence polishing off their lunch. From the county attire, the cheerful yet slightly plummy accents and the heap of assorted shooting paraphernalia... cartridge belts, jackets, shotgun cases lazily heaped in a corner, it is obvious the local hunt is in for a pre-shoot lunch.
I order the Cep risotto to start, whilst the GF declines a starter (sigh) and continues to munch on the fantastic bread.
"Woah there,...Get away, what are you doing?.... You didn't want a starter...No....you can't have any".
Rejected but resigned she draws back to her side of the table.
Harsh perhaps, but a line has to be drawn somewhere, you want a starter? order your own. But I did let her mop up a bit with her bread - I'm kind of soft like that.
Welcome at this point, our mains arrived to distract us from the mutual, silently mouthed obscenities, threats and associated hand signals backed up with reproachful stares and hard looks.
I'm polishing off my main, it's all I can do to scrape the last of the delicious roasting juices up. Stuffed silly but happy and content. Studying the desserts chalked on the board. I'm thinking about the Earl Grey creme caramel with prunes in Armagnac. For some reason I have a thing about Earl Grey flavoured desserts and find myself drawn to them. But, on this occasion I decide to enlist the help of the landlady and ask for her opinion, as she's 'no doubt tried them all - what does she recommend?'
The 'Warm chocolate mousse, almonds and praline ice-cream' is apparently massively popular and as such is a constant on the board. I take that recommendation and place my order. The GF goes for the cheeseboard.
Coffee's are ordered, and a large cafetiere is placed on the table, along with some rather nice nougat to nibble. The pot is huge, and the coffee is pretty good. We easily get two cups each out of it. It's £2 each. (The Bell take note).
Lunch finished, we pay and make our way outside, its starting to get dark and the pub lights come on - it looks cheery and very picturesque. Off in the distance I hear the feint pop and echos of shotguns - the local hunt finishing their shoot. I'm quite jealous of the village's inhabitants having such a fantastic venue in their midst, the pub is charming, entirely un-mucked about with....there's nothing fancy or showy, and the food is the same, unpretentious, beautifully cooked and seriously tasty. It's very hard to fault. It's one of the best lunches I've had for quite a while.
Our lunch for two, with two glasses of wine, coffees and tip came to £65 which is, by anyone's standards a complete bargain.
The Fitzwalter Arms