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New couple & chef head up Shepherd Neame gastropub in Kent

A new husband and wife team are behind the bar at award-winning gastropub The Kings Head in Wye, Ashford.

Chris and Deb Irwin took over the Shepherd Neame pub, which also boasts seven stylish en-suite guest rooms, at the end of August. It was a major change of direction for the couple, as Chris previously ran his own corporate events business, while Deb worked in finance and governance for a charitable organisation.

Chris said, “We approached Shepherd Neame at the start of the year to see if they had any pubs available, and were delighted when they suggested the Kings Head.

'It has a stunning location in the heart of Wye, which is such a beautiful country village, and it also has a great reputation, previously named Kent Life Pub Of The Year and ranked in the top 50 UK Gastropubs. With the guest rooms as well, we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity.”

The couple were hoping to take over in March, but the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, which saw all pubs closed for three months, forced them to delay the handover.

Chris said, “It was a difficult time, as we were eager to get going, but it was also really useful as when you are preparing to partner with a company, you need to see how they react when things don’t go to plan. We were so impressed by the team at Shepherd Neame. They kept in regular contact with us and were happy to help with any queries. We also saw how well they treated their other licensees, cancelling their rent through the closure and providing extensive support.”

Since taking over the pub, the pair have begun making small changes to its offer, including developing a range of cocktails, and working with their new Head Chef Matt McPhail to introduce a new menu. It includes a delicious selection of bar snacks and pub classics, along with á la carte dishes and daily specials.

Due to its rural location, the pub is able to utilise the fantastic range of produce on its doorstep, sourcing microherbs, vegetables and garnishes from the Rebel Farmer based in Brook, and fruit from Wye's Perry Court Farm. Meat comes from Stour Valley Game in Chilham, who have also created a bespoke wild boar, Stilton and apple sausage exclusive to the pub.

They also now offer a children's menu which adheres to the same high standards as the regular menu, with all dishes created from scratch using the finest locally sourced ingredients.

Deb explained, 'We are aware that The Kings Head has a special place at the heart of the community in Wye, so we have been reassuring local residents that this is an evolution, not a revolution. We don't want to change everything! But as both Chris and I have children, one of our first goals is to ensure that families feel comfortable visiting us. My son Will has been our chief advisor on the new menu, and even has a burger named after him!'

They have also reopened the Kings Head Pizza shack in the pub's courtyard, which is now serving food and drink from 4pm to 9pm, Wednesday to Sunday. It features a bespoke Italian oven that the team is using to create a selection of 8 and 12 inch pizzas which can be enjoyed al fresco on seating in the courtyard or ordered to take away. The pub has also launched a Click and Collect service for the pizzas, along with snacks and bottled and canned drinks to take away.

Chris finished, 'We have had a truly amazing first couple of months since taking over the pub. The local residents have been incredibly welcoming, and we have a fantastic team. These are challenging times so we just want to keep thing simple, creating a safe, welcoming environment where customers enjoy fantastic food and drink, and most importantly, feel able to relax.'