Following on from the success of The George & Dragon pub in Speldhurst, Chris Cozens – co-owner of Silverlake Leisure Ltd with his father-in-law – has set the company’s sights on a popular Penshurst hostelry. Hannah Patterson meets with him to find out more…
Chris Cozens is a fast mover. If you don’t know the name Silverlake Leisure Ltd, the company Chris owns with his father-in-law, it is worth taking note. The Tunbridge Wellsborn owner of The George & Dragon in Speldhurst, which the company took over in May 2017, is making a mark on the area after also acquiring the long-term lease of The Leicester Arms Hotel in Penshurst in October 2017.
There was no song and dance about it from him, though. He worked under the radar.
“There were a lot of changes that I wanted to implement when we took over, but I was keen not to close the pub as it’s a popular one with locals and tourists in Penshurst,
so it’s been a slow and steady process.”
The building itself is a beautiful one; period architecture with high ceilings and exposed beams and large fireplaces, and filled with the kind of warmth that you expect from a traditional Kentish pub.
The new decorative features are immediately noticeable, and the appearance of some of
the rooms has improved hugely in comparison to the last time I met Chris late last year.
A room of note is the private event room, something Chris is exceptionally proud of.
It’s narrow, tall and elegant and wouldn’t look too out of place in Penshurst Place itself.
It’s decked with luscious long curtains of a rich fabric with chandeliers hanging over a long dining table that can comfortably accommodate parties of up to 24.
There is a fresh paint on the wall and the scent of fresh flowers fills the room; Chris has
every reason to be proud of the transformation. “It’s available for any private function
now that it’s done – private parties, corporate events, or a group of friends who just
want to have a meal together, and weddings,” Chris tells me.
The wedding industry in the UK is reportedly worth in excess of £10billion and it’s a particularly competitive business in Kent.
When I ask where Chris intends to fit into it, he has an answer almost immediately. “It will be our fluidity,” he says. “You won’t go to our website and find three wedding packages
that you can choose between – it isn’t ‘our way or the highway’. We will accom- modate the couple’s wishes as best we can, as every couple is different.” The venue is also at a logistical advantage. It’s opposite a particularly pretty church – St John the Baptist – that isn’t quite as rigid in comparison to others in the area when it comes to the requirements a couple have to fulfil in order to marry there. For example, they are not required to attend mass at that church for the six months prior to the ceremony. It doesn’t hurt that there are also 13 double bedrooms in the hotel above the restaurant for the ease of the guests.
Chris predicts he can cater for up to 100 wedding guests, especially with the help of the large garden to the rear of the pub, nestled amidst the idyllic countryside that surrounds Penshurst. As well as a pretty garden, the area at the back of the pub also boasts a large car park. That’s all the boxes ticked, I’d say.
But what about the times between weddings and private functions? Chris has brought the
same attitude to food he had at The George & Dragon to The Leicester Arms – local, fresh and quality – which is probably the right idea as the Speldhurst pub has consistently grown in popularity since he took over the lease.
The suppliers are the same, including Sankey’s for their excellent seafood. “We have every intention of catering to all needs,” Chris tells me. “We get a lot of visitors from Penshurst Place who are looking to have tea and cake, then those who fancy a sandwich, and some who are after a three-course meal.
“You’ll see it in the drinks list, too. Take the wine for example; there’s wine at the high end of the price bracket on the menu, but you can also grab a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon for £6.” The pub was comfortably busy when I arrived, and it appeared just as popular when I left after dinner, so Chris is clearly doing something right.
Wanting The Leicester Arms to have its own identity is important to him, and he doesn’t want to simply repeat his work at The George & Dragon. Although it is still early days yet, visitors can expect a charming hotel, restaurant and pub in the centre of a pretty village that is sure to gain momentum under Chris Cozens’ watchful eye and expertise.
After the dinner I had on Friday, I know that I’ll certainly be back.
The Leicester Arms Hotel
High Street, Penshurst, Nr Tonbridge TN11 8BT