Hidden off the beaten path, The Redstart at Barming is not a pub you are likely to come across, although that is exactly what I did.
I had turned North Street because of the traffic lights onto the A26 towards Maidstone and was looking for a passage to Hermitage Lane but, having discovered what might be a hidden gem, I stopped for a quick pint.
My first impression was that everything looked very glitzy, dare I say, almost chintzy. It’s undeniably not well maintained and spotlessly clean, but the decor reminded me of one of those posh mobile homes on a posh caravan site.
It’s also much more restaurant than pub, but there were still three guys at the bar, all perched on impeccably padded stools, enjoying a pint – even their accompanying pooch was allowed a stool.
I took my seat under a chandelier where I had a good view of all the witty sayings on the opposite wall and listened as these three guys started to put the world in order.
They clearly feel that this place is an oasis protected from the more unpleasant surrounding areas and unwelcoming drunks – it certainly has plenty of CCTV protection. Maidstone itself, literally just down the road, was quickly deemed a complete dump and best avoided if possible.
Hits Radio displayed on the screen on the wall was softly playing in the background and the guys continued to chat about the caravan holiday so having entered the realm of real central England I decided to order a Wadworths 6X – a decent bitter taste, if slightly flat, with lots of nuttiness.
The master caravanner settled his weekly tab before his holiday but in response to dog owner Tom’s question as to whether he had another he produced the quickest ‘yes’ I have ever heard .
I left them, took my pint and headed to the side bar to check out the back garden, which turned out to be extensive.
Again very well maintained and tidy, there is also a sort of hidden, secret garden with a children’s play area and an arched gate in the hedge leading to a path at the rear.
An old lad, walking home through the secret door, stopped long enough to tell me that the ‘new’ owners had done wonders here and had really turned the ‘shady’ booze that it was. I found out later that the “new” owners (Kasia and Edriss) had been in place for over a decade, so they might have made some major changes, but not exactly an overnight turnaround.
Becia, the bartender from Poland, has been here since the day they took over 12 years ago and says it’s as good a place to work as anywhere.
The focus has clearly been on encouraging families, but the label ‘waiting room in paradise’ was probably more apt while I was there – and I can’t recall another pub where a punter came in and hung his straw hat on a peg at the door.
Further exploration revealed a slightly tired pétanque piste, but I’m sure it’s still fully operational and everyone is free to use it, just bring your own boules.
I also discovered a blackboard with a whole list of cocktails available for £6.95 and a smoking area with very similar plastic flowers inside and more decorative lights.
I entered through another door and, on the way, I took advantage of the facilities. The gentlemen didn’t get the same glitzy makeover as the rest of the pub and are a bit more dated, but the urinals featured colorful mats and there was a plastic orchid on the cabin window sill – usually very fresh and clean.
Back inside, Becia wrapped up the trailer conversation by discussing her batch’s poor production performance and the dog who had previously been content with her stool decided he’d heard enough and insisted. that it was time for its owner Tom and his caravan-loving buddy to hit some trails.
I too decided my trip had been delayed long enough for all this gardening/camping talk and headed for the door, past a sign advertising a Thursday night of steak with two sirloins for £30 and the straw hat that seemed to have been forgotten altogether.
The Redstart, 70 North Street, Maidstone ME16 9HF
Decor: Glitzy, bordering on chintzy, the trendy gray paintwork is supported by lots of floral designs, mirrors, plastic flowers and fairy lights. **
Beverage: There is a good selection of ales and lagers available and the bitter I chose was a good pint. Maybe next time I’ll try one of the cocktails on offer. ***
Price: My pint of Wadworths 6X cost me £4.50. Those choosing the increasingly popular lager of the current choice, Madri, were paying £5.10, but the cocktails are probably the best value at just £6.95. ***
Personal: Becia was a dozen years behind the pumps at Redstart so it must be a decent place to work and there was a good relationship between staff and regulars. ***
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“The pub has been decorated as a posh mobile home on a posh caravan site”