What makes a pub traditional? Some would say the décor, others would say the menu, then there are those who just want to sit back with a decent pint. As the new owner of The George & Dragon in Speldhurst, Chris Cozens is planning to tick all the boxes – and he’s hoping costomers both near and far will like it. Hannah Patterson sits at table with Chris and new Executive Chef Mark Raffan to find out exactly what they have in store for the historic hostelry…
It seems to be all hands on deck here. How did you both end up at The George & Dragon?
CHRIS: Funnily enough, I grew up in Speldhurst and this was my village pub. I have vivid memories of coming here with my parents for a Speldhurst Sausage sandwich. My parents then moved to Tunbridge Wells when I was 18 and, after a few years with them, I spent ten years in London. I was running my own pub in Cambridgeshire, and it was only when I came back to visit my parents one time that they showed me, in the Times of Tunbridge Wells, that this pub was for sale! It all went from there, and I set out on a mission to bring the pub back to the homely village establishment I remembered. I can confirm Speldhurst Sausage sandwiches are now back on the menu!
MARK: For me, my journey began as a young chef at The Gravetye Manor where I spent over twenty years which culminated in winning a Michelin Star and holding it for over a decade. I spent four years as Executive Chef to His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan, I was at The Gavroche at The Waterside and my latest venture was Owner/Chef at The Crown Inn in Horsted Keynes, West Sussex. I’ve been in the industry for 40 years now and loved it all. From owning The Red Lion in Chelwood Gate to taking over The Crown in Horsted Keynes with my wife, it’s been such an adventure and it felt now was the time for me to focus on being a Chef as oppose to manically managing it all. I met Chris here and I’m now the Executive Chef. It’s been such an adventure, but it felt now was the time for me to focus on being a chef as opposed to manically managing it all. I met Chris here and I’m now the Executive Chef.
What are your plans as Executive Chef?
MARK: A lot of it will be restoring the original values of a traditional pub. I have also hand picked the sous chef.
What is a ‘traditional pub’ to you with regard
to the menu?
MARK: The quality of the food will be as good as fine dining, but we are a family pub which welcomes everyone for whatever kind of meal they might like. Everything we prepare will be fresh, which is really important to us. Good quality food with our own twist. No mass produced dishes and a menu that reflects what people want – dressed crab and nice Sourdough baguettes (sourced from Sussex Kitchen) during the summer, for example.
CHRIS: We intend on offering a wide range of options. Private functions,weddings and hen parties can hire our upstairs area. There will be something that appeals to all tastes. But also it’s important to us that people are able to just come here for a drink. We’ve brought Larkins back on tap at the request of the locals. And it’s worth noting that our ingredients will be locally sourced and of the highest quality.
Who are your suppliers?
MARK: We use Fuller’s for all our meat as the quality is exceptional. We use Sankey’s for all the fish and Harrisons in London. We buy our core Vegetables from IA Harris of new covent Garden but we source many local vegetables including Groombridge Asparagus and Kentish Soft Fruits when in season.
CHRIS: We don’t want to just be producing the same quality as every other pub around, we want to exceed expectations. We’ve got a team here with too much experience behind them to be just offering a standard menu. It’s got to be all freshly made and cooked to perfection. We’re very proud to have Mark on board here, and we also have a new sous chef starting soon.
What would be your dish of choice?
CHRIS: Definitely the moules! They come with French fries and mayonnaise, and at only £12 it’s the perfect dish this time of the year. I’d start with a pint of prawns as well. That order is a lot of fish, but it’s delicious!
What can we expect from the bar now? Have
you made any changes?
CHRIS: Getting Larkins back was crucial for us as we knew it was what the locals wanted, so we were glad to do that. Overall, we are upping the game across the board. For example, there used to be a choice of just two gins here and now we’ve got a large selection of around 12 gins, a range of different glasses, six types of tonic, and fresh fruits such as pomegranate and lime for our gin drinkers. Our wine list will also be expanding. We’d hate to have anyone feel as if they aren’t welcome to join us just for a drink. This pub is 800 years old, so we wouldn’t ever want to lose the traditional pub feel.
Are you doing any major work to the interior?
CHRIS: Next week we are redecorating the side bar to make a cosy sofa area for those who want to have a drink by the fire. We want it to be a little more neutral and welcoming, as well as ensuring not all our seating is at tables and too much like a restaurant. There’s no pressure for customers to eat if all they fancy is a drink. I think eventually the dining area will be upstairs and the pub downstairs. We’ve also just smartened up the front garden with new tables and parasols for the summer and a new pub sign that is more traditional and back to our roots.
What’s next on the agenda?
CHRIS: The back garden. It’s looking a little sorry for itself, so that’ll be the next project. We will rip it all out at the end of this summer ready to create a nice outside bar and a BBQ with decking and heating.
And finally, what would you say defines a great pub?
CHRIS: The perfect pub would need great Kentish beer, a good selection of wines and spirits, a warm welcome, great food and real value for money.
The George and Dragon