Phoenix ris­ing

Kent Life - - Gourmet News - WORDS: Sarah Sturt PHO­TOS: Manu Palomeque

Brought to life by a fam­ily team with strong lo­cal con­nec­tions, The

Pow­ell is back where it be­longs in the heart of its com­mu­nity

Walk­ing into the front bar at The Pow­ell in Birch­ing­ton on a chilly Fri­day evening, the buzz of happy chat­ter en­velops me and I start to feel im­me­di­ately re­laxed and at home.

Greeted warmly by co-owner Clare Darby’s daugh­ter Scar­let, who is the over­all man­ager, I’m shown up steep wooden steps from the bar to my cosy room on the first floor. It’s one of six in­di­vid­u­ally de­signed bed­rooms that were opened last Oc­to­ber and all bear the hall­mark of Clare’s ex­quis­ite eye for de­tail.

I’m in the Queen El­iz­a­beth, named af­ter Scar­let’s gran rather than our monarch, and charm­ing it is too in shades of taupe and grey, el­e­gant fur­ni­ture in­clud­ing a pretty four-poster, plus a fea­ture fire­place, beams and a neat lit­tle shower room.

Back down­stairs and I’m soon chat­ting to restau­rant man­ager Sarah about which cock­tail I should try. ‘Bath­tub’ G&T in hand, I catch up with own­ers

Clare and Robin and hear the fas­ci­nat­ing story be­hind the ren­o­va­tion of this hand­some pub on the vil­lage square, right next to All Saints Church.

Very bravely, af­ter buy­ing sight un­seen at auc­tion five years ago what was then an ex­tremely run-down build­ing, the cou­ple shut the doors for two and a half years and set about a to­tal re­fur­bish­ment and trans­for­ma­tion of the the­nunloved 17th-cen­tury build­ing.

De­spite be­ing told they were ‘quite mad’ clos­ing for so long Robin, who is in the recla­ma­tion busi­ness, took the lead while Clare (who grew up in a pub) was in charge of the fin­ish­ing touches. They make a great team.

“We wanted ev­ery­thing per­fect be­fore we opened – and it was,” says Robin, adding how well the new Pow­ell has been re­ceived, with a grow­ing clien­tele of lo­cals and those from fur­ther afield.

But there were also other in­cen­tives, as Robin ex­plains.

“My dad worked for the Pow­ellCot­tons and my first job was as a farm hand at Quex Park [which houses The Pow­ell-Cot­ton Mu­seum]. The pub is named af­ter af­ter Squire John Pow­ell Pow­ell of Quex, who was High Sher­iff of Kent in 1822, so there was a real fam­ily con­nec­tion for me.”

The fam­ily feel ex­tends to the (largely fe­male) team, who are a de­light; friendly, chatty and ef­fort­lessly ef­fi­cient as they glide be­tween the bar and eat­ing ar­eas.

There are din­ers tuck­ing into fish and chips in The Snug, but

I’m in The Or­angery restau­rant (the for­mer coach­house), which is a step down from the bar through a splen­did arch. With its wooden floor, brick walls and re­claimed brick­work plus dra­matic chan­de­liers hang­ing from the beams, it’s a fine set­ting for a sim­ple menu of home-made clas­sics, where the em­pha­sis is on qual­ity lo­cal, sea­sonal pro­duce.

My home-made fish­cake sets the stan­dard: a sub­stan­tial tower of pip­ing hot, tasty fresh fish, it’s dec­o­rated with peashoots and ac­com­pa­nied by a lovely pear purée, with an ex­tra kick from

The Or­angery Restau­rant was for­merly an 18th-cen­tury coach­house

The wel­com­ing bar

My Queen El­iz­a­beth bed­room

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