Scottish Daily Mail
AN INSPECTOR CALLS
THIS is going to be special, I tell myself as we pass medieval Penshurst Place, lit up to dramatic effect, with the pretty village church glowing next to it.
Certainly, the Leicester Arms Hotel, near Tunbridge Wells, had looked cheering on the website — a village pub given a good wash and brush up without losing its charm.
Not quite. The whole place seems in the grip of a collective lethargy. I’m not even given much in the way of a welcome.
‘Don’t worry, this isn’t rubbish,’ says the weary young woman who shows me to a room on the first floor above the kitchen extractor — even though only two other people are staying. She’s not referring to the room, but to the eight bulging black plastic bin bags — ‘it’s just sheets and stuff.’
You might think sheets and stuff could be stored elsewhere. But then, on seeing my drab room, I have my doubts. It’s a charmless affair. The window frame has been painted recently, but no one has bothered to scrape off the drips stuck to the panes; three dull watercolours hang on the walls; the small desk is battered and bruised; and the bedside lights are those infuriating ones that only come on when you tap them. Even the laminated card telling you how to get an outside line is creased and uninviting.
Things are more convivial downstairs. The panelled bar, with its saddles on the walls, open fires (not lit) and exposed timber beams provide some atmosphere, but the best part is the dining room up a short flight of stairs, with its mish-mash of tables and chairs, some of which are lovely antique jobs.
A mere three tables are occupied, but the wait between my indifferent first course (two tiny bits of rolled-up smoked salmon and some avocado mousse) and my main course (sea bass in an overly rich sauce with gnocchi) is unforgivable. ‘Any veg?’ I ask. ‘Kale, that’s about it,’ says the waitress in a wouldn’t-bother sort of way. ‘I’ll have some kale, then, please.’
It’s a Wednesday night, but feels like the butt end of a Sunday. I almost long for someone to ask if ‘everything’s all right with your meal’ if only because it would mean I can ask for another glass of wine.
I get talking in the morning to the ‘sheets and stuff’ member of staff and I like her nononsense honesty. ‘Been busy?’ I ask. ‘Not really, bit dead actually.’ ‘Who comes here at this time of year?’ ‘We get a lot down for a dirty weekend.’ Perhaps if you’re down for a dirty weekend you can forgive certain flaws. But calling this old boozer a hotel is a liberty too far.
The Leicester Arms Hotel High Street, Penshurst, Kent TN11 8BT 01892 871 617, theleicesterarmshotel.com
Doubles from £119 B&B