Faded and forlorn following two years of closure, the former Bull Inn in the heart of pretty Sissinghurst was rescued in 2013 by Dane and Sarah Allchorne, who were looking to escape London to develop their own business. Inn Places managing director David Hancock pays a visit.
Fuelled by passion, enthusiasm and ideas, Dane and Sarah have carefully restored and refurbished the striking roadside building, a former 16th century hall house, recreating a thriving community hub, with a busy bar and restaurant and four comfortable rooms. The informal, airy and open-plan interiors are simply, yet stylishly decorated, with fireside sofas, cushioned benches and old pine tables in the bar, and painted timbers and beams, fat lamps, big mirrors, jugs of fresh flowers and bold local artwork in the contemporary, wood-floored dining room.
The Personal Touch
The fabulous sun-trap side terrace is the place to be on warm sunny days, so arrive early to bag some space on the huge central table, which is made from vast slabs of local timber. The ‘hopper hut’ outside bar dispenses chilled beer and rosé and jugs of Pimms to save you queuing at the bar. Just past the pizza kitchen and duck pond, a gate leads to a lawn with picnic benches and unusual play area, so a great space for kids to let off steam. The August Bank Holiday Milk Fest is a four-day feast of fun for all the family, built around Dane & Sarah’s favourite local artisan suppliers, who sell their produce from stalls around the terrace, and live music from local bands.
The Milk House is just over a mile from the famous gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, which are best reached on foot from the pub – a memorable stroll through orchards and Bluebell woods. In 2016, building on the success of The Milk House, the Allchorne’s added a sister pub, breathing new life into the Barrow House at Egerton, another thriving inn with three rooms located a few miles away across the Kentish Weald.
Do not disturb
With a few famous gardens and grand houses within an easy drive of Sissinghurst, The Milk House has become a popular base for exploring the glorious Kent countryside. The clutch of four comfortable upstairs rooms (with their own entrance) have been beautifully decorated in a simple, stylish and uncluttered way, all are light, spacious and very relaxing with soothing heritage hues, the best Dorset linen and down on big beds, chic fabrics, upholstered armchairs, a mix of pine and painted furniture, fresh flowers and floral paintings.
Modern tiled bathrooms boast rain showers and Romney Marsh soaps and lotions. If you fancy soaking in a claw-foot tub surrounded by candles while enjoying country views, then book the Byre room. Wake up to homemade muesli and freshly baked pastries or tuck into the full English breakfast – local Park Farm sausage & bacon, free-range eggs, grilled mushroom, tomato & toast. Double rooms from £100-£160.
Mastering the menu
New Zealand born chef Dane may have plied the stoves at Chez Bruce and Marco’s Hyde Park Hotel restaurant, and cooked privately for clients across the world, but the menus he creates with head chef Joshua Price at The Milk House are very much in keeping with the relaxed ethos of the pub. Expect to find a light, all-day grazing menu, the pork pie with apple and elderflower chutney being the perfect accompaniment to quaffing a pint at the bar or in the garden, alongside a pub classics selection and an imaginative seasonal menu.
A real crowd-pleaser, the classics menu offers pub dishes with a modern twist, perhaps beer-battered cod with skinny fries, minted pea puree, charred lemon and lemon thyme tartare sauce, and the homemade burger comes with smoked bacon, cheese, fries, mayo and tomato chutney. The summer dining menu offers an eye-catching selection of more inventive dishes, typically octopus carpaccio with air-dried tomatoes, baby basil and lemon crumb, followed by tarragon stuffed guinea fowl, rosemary potato, pea shoots, corn puree and crispy bacon, and Prosecco and raspberry posset with lemon shortbread. A wood-fired oven in the pizza hut in the garden takes the pressure of the busy kitchen in summer and delivers authentic pizzas topped with local charcuterie, cheese, seasonal vegetables and herbs.
Onion gravy, or beer-battered haddock with hand-cut chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce.
To finish, there are mouth-watering puddings, perhaps treacle tart with lemon curd ice cream or sticky toffee pudding, and an excellent cheeseboard, served with homemade oatcakes, grapes, chutney and a glass of port. Roast Sunday lunches – leg of Mount Grace lamb with roast potatoes and apricot and rosemary stuffing – draw a loyal local crowd and best enjoyed following a brisk walk around the Crayke Estate.
Local, Local, Local
Dane’s passion to offer delicious English food extends to sourcing quality produce from within a 20-mile radius of Sissinghurst, the rich local larder delivering Claire’s artisan bread from Frankie’s Farm Shop in Staplehurst, Moons Green handmade charcuterie, succulent lamb, amazing asparagus from Frog’s Hole Farm along the road, and meat from Park Farm Butchers in Hawkhurst.
Look behind the bar and you’ll find it stocked with quality local beers and wines and, where possible, spirits. The latter includes the delicious and very moreish Anno Gin and Elderflower Vodka, distilled 5 miles away in Marden. Naturally, there’s space on the wine rack for some local fizz, notably Herbert Hall Brut Rosé, again from Marden, and Chapel Down’s Vintage Reserve Brut from their vineyard near Tenterden. Tip-top ales on tap regularly feature brews from Old Dairy Brewery, just down the road in Tenterden, alongside beers from Sussex brewers Dark Star and Harveys, and ciders from artisan Kent makers Gibbet Oak, Turners and Kentish Pip. Drivers and juice drinkers are spoilt for choice, with quality juices from Chegworth Valley and Kingsdown producers, both based in Kent.
- Rescued and revamped with style
- Laid-back vibe; brilliant staff
- Classy, crowd-pleasing menus
- Champions local artisan producers
- Pizzas from the wood oven
- Simple, stylish rooms upstairs
- Don’t miss the Milk Fest in August
THE MILK HOUSE
The Street, Sissinghurst,
Cranbrook, Kent , TN17 2JG
Tel: 01580 720200