My Pub: The Dog at Wingham, Kent

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Pack leader: the Dog at Wingham leads the pack with its pub-restaurant-rooms offer
Pack leader: the Dog at Wingham leads the pack with its pub-restaurant-rooms offer

Related tags: Pub, Alcoholic beverage, Beer, Public house

Creative Marilyn Brigden had designs on owning a hotel. So when fate brought the opportunity of rolling a pub, restaurant and hotel into one, she seized the chance. Here, her son Marc Brigden – co-owner – tells us about the strength of the bite at the Dog at Wingham.

Facts ‘n’ stats

Name: The Dog at Wingham

Address: Canterbury Road, Wingham, Kent, CT3 1BB

Licensee: Marc Bridgen

Wet:dry split: 40:60

Average spend: £44 per head

The pub

Owner Marilyn Bridgen is an interior designer and designed the interiors for The Crescent Victoria and The Crescent Turner hotels on the Kent coast. She also helped the owner get the sites open and operational.

Marilyn enjoyed this process so much that she decided she wanted her own small hotel. We spent a day driving all over Kent and looked at 19 different sites, frustratingly, none of them fitted the bill.

By chance, as we neared the family home in Ickham, a property agent called and when we said how frustrated we were, he proposed the Dog Inn, in the neighbouring village of Wingham.

It was fate. On 14 June 2016, we took the keys to the Dog Inn. A planned clean and decorate became a full refurbishment after one day of owning the Dog.

Four months later to the day, on 14 October, we opened the Dog at Wingham and hosted our good friends Bill and Jo’s wedding for 100 guests and filled all eight guest rooms.

We were literally chasing tradesmen out the back door as we welcomed guests through the front door. It was an incredible wedding and we have never looked back. We have turned the old pub into a restaurant with rooms, lounge bar, garden and parking.

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The publican

The Dog is owned and managed by Marilyn and her eldest son, myself, Marc – we were both first-time publicans. Marilyn oversees all aspects of quality and cleanliness and ensures the Dog is a place that she “would like to visit”.

My job is to fill the place up. The day-to-day running of the Dog is down to general manager Will Thompson and chefs Sam and Rob. It is these fantastic guys and their teams that are the heart and soul of the Dog.

Will’s family live in Ickham and we started talking before we bought the Dog and he has been with us every step of the way.

Sam and Rob first met at [Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs winner] the Sportsman in Seasalter. Sam joined the team as a Chef de Partie in May 2017 and proved a true talent. In May 2018, the head chef role came up. When offered it, Sam was keen but concerned with his experience. He said he would take it on the basis that he could get Rob to join him as his right-hand man. They are an incredible team and since they have been running the kitchen together, the awards have come rolling in.

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The trade

The Dog is semi-rural in the beautiful village of Wingham, which is just outside Canterbury on the main road to Sandwich and the coast.

It is food-led and rooms have an 82% occupation rate, giving the dining room a good atmosphere with many guests each night.

Canterbury is one of the most visited cities in the country and is a huge selling point for us. We are also close to Dover, which has some world-famous attractions, such as the White Cli­ffs, Castle, etc.

We have a wide range of guests during the week, such as retired short breakers, foreign tourists and business customers. Weekends often see people having a special treat or celebrating a special occasion. The restaurant has a real range too, including retired visitors on Mondays to Thursdays then all-comers at weekends. On the whole though, it is an older clientele that are ‘quite well-heeled’ who visit most. What we o­ffer is quite ‘high end’.

Dog

The team

I run the office with a part-time bookings manager, Janine. We are very proactive in marketing/PR/sales. General manager Will Thompson runs the site and oversees all departments, which include front-of-house, the kitchen and housekeeping. Sam McClurkin and Rob Mantegna run the kitchen though; there are five chefs in total and four kitchen porters. We have a total of 30 sta­ff.

We were a finalist in the Top 50 Gastropubs Front of House Team of the Year at the start of this year.

To achieve this we have one shared goal – giving every guest the perfect experience. Neither front or back can do it without each other and so we work as one team. Communication and mutual respect are at our core.

When it comes to serving our guests there is no di­fference between the importance of a kitchen porter and an owner/manager – nothing works without everyone working together. When required you will find the owners polishing glasses, jumping in the sink or unblocking toilets. We have an incredible team of young people who are dedicated to our guests.

To prepare for service, my first major lesson from our first head chef was that it is all in the preparation. He meant in kitchen prep, but I realised it is in preparing for the guests long before we start cooking for them. We start in the bookings office. Why are guests coming to the Dog? Note it on the booking.

Then the duty manager can prepare for every service by reviewing all bookings, preparing the tabs and tables and any special arrangements – flowers, celebration plates, specific drinks, etc. Then there are meetings to discuss menu changes and booking specifics followed by team huddles. Then it is showtime.

The drink

We have a full pub offering of drinks on draught, cask ales, spirits, wines, etc. We are famous for our gin bar with more than 50 to choose from, and we have a gin of the week with buy-one-get-one-free Fridays on the selected gin of the week.

We also have an extensive wine list that we are very proud of and we make cocktails to order.

The food

What’s on the menu?

Starters

  • Chervil and Manchego tortilla with poached egg & romesco (v) - £8
  • Local asparagus with pancetta, whipped cods roe & lardo - £9
  • Lobster raviolo, buttered leeks, bisque espuma - £13.50

Main courses

  • Grilled cauliflower steak, romanesco risotto, buckwheat, burnt apple & ricotta (v) - £18
  • Hake baked in mushroom butter, boulangère potatoes, bouillabaisse & green, olive tapenade - £22
  • Barbecued Moroccan spiced lamb rump, chickpea purée, black quinoa & feta - £23

Pudding

  • Honey parfait, orange & hazelnut with Jamaican ginger ice cream - £8
  • Lemon & raspberry panna cotta and shortbread with verbena ice cream - £7.50
  • Chocolate fondant with dulce de leche ice cream - £9.50
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We won the Great British Pub Awards 2019 Best for Food category. Alongside our lunch and à la carte menus starters/mains/puddings sections, we have added a seasonal specials section where we have a range of dishes that define the season and are more traditional pub food than our usual dishes, which are more restaurant/gastropub.

This has been hugely popular and has driven many guests to return more frequently. The biggest gain, though, has been at lunch where it has taken guests away from the set menu and increased spend.

In March, we hosted our first Literary Dinner. Historian Tracy Borman worked with us on a Tudor-themed menu with links to Henry VIII. She then talked about her book on Henry VIII, followed by a stunning meal. It was a total sell out and took part in midweek with high, advanced ticket prices and high spend per head on the night. More literary dinners are booked and spaces have been filling up fast.

We source the vast majority of our food products from local suppliers. We believe this ensures fresh, local and seasonal produce is used whenever possible and we can build close/firm relationships, support local businesses and keep money in the local economy. We also strive to keep down the environmental impact of ‘food miles’.

The events

Our monthly ‘celebration dinners’ are the main events we put on, plus a few summer music/food events.

Our monthly celebration dinners give the chefs the chance to do something different and to showcase their flair and talent.

Along with the menu inspired by the Tudors for the literary dinner, we have done a tapas menu, a Simpsons wine estate wine night where the dishes were built around the character of the wines and seasonal ingredients.

Nearby Copper Rivet Distillery has been used for an event where its spirits are added to dishes and we are set to host a Bloomsbury Set-inspired menu for our second literary dinner.

In summer, we typically have a couple of à la carte barbecue events and a couple of paella days, which are always completely fully booked.

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The future

We completed a total refurbishment in 2016, however, the kitchen continuously requests new kit to enable back of house to raise the bar and do new/different things.

We recently bought a ceramic barbecue for open-fire cooking, a charcuterie slicer so we can do fresh charcuterie, an additional oven for the pastry section, and a waiter buzzer system to improve kitchen/front-of-house service.

While still being a very young business, we try to keep our core focus on maintaining the quality and consistency of everything we do. Growing our client base and having guests return is at the very centre of what we need to do as a business.

We want to redevelop our loyalty programme, create more partnerships with product/service providers, get a second property, continually improve the working environment for our team, improve staff retention and satisfaction and improve margins.

Related topics: Marketing

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