The canopies of deciduous trees are suffused with colour, intensified by the declining sun, leaves gather under foot and there is a new chill in the moist air. Autumn has arrived and with it the need for cosy lunches and a good pub. For many of us who live in and around Faversham our first thought is The Three Mariners, a rambling 18th century building with a terrace, glorious views across the marshes and a large, grassy garden that slopes down towards the boatyard and Oare Creek. The pub is renowned for its good-value food, in particular the three-course Walker’s Menu for £14.95. A sign outside the front door invariably states: ‘Fully booked for lunch – open for drinks.’
The Three Mariners is a Shepherd Neame pub. Since July it has had new tenants, business partners Sarah Simmonds, who has a background in hospitality, and architect Justin Prior. I arranged to meet Sarah to discuss their plans. I arrive early, an hour early as it happens, as Sarah and I have different times for the interview in our diaries. This gives me ample time to observe a busy but helpful staff team getting on with preparing for the Friday lunchtime rush. An excellent Americano arrives for me, and a bowl of water for my puppy (dogs are welcome in the bar area).
I spot some of the refinements that the new owners have introduced – more small tables for flexibility as they can be pushed together for larger parties, mismatched crockery and the introduction of proper napkins. When Sarah arrives, fresh from another meeting, she elaborates on the pitfalls and positives of taking on an existing business. ‘If we had taken on a business that wasn’t successful, it would have been easy. Coming into a really successful business is much more difficult. My sheer presence,’ she observes, ‘has changed it.’ There has been some grumbling from regulars, although, says Sarah, ‘we have the same team in the kitchen, the same suppliers, the same ingredients. It’s about us fitting in with the business, not imposing what we want, enhancing what is currently here and listening to people’. She is regularly on the floor doing just that, and says: ‘The buzz from the customer is just great.’
Later, on the telephone, Justin Prior adds: ‘People will always look for change as a bad thing initially, but you have to run the business on – you need to tweak to compete.’ Sarah and Jonathan perform complementary roles: ‘We have a deal,’ says Sarah. ‘He’s design, I’m operations.’ Justin’s practice, Design ID, specialises in licensed premises. Five years ago he started a company, Urban Architectural Salvage, which supplies bespoke items and furniture to the licensed trade. This company really took off, he says, when Sarah joined him. They enjoyed working together and when the opportunity to take on The Three Mariners came up, they seized it.
The exterior of the pub was recently repainted, using Farrow & Ball paints, including Charleston Gray, described by F&B as ‘a warm and muted grey’, and hand-written signage. This week it has been the turn of the pub interior. The kitchen has been refitted with a new extractor and new equipment to create a better working environment. The loos have been repainted in historic F&B colours, and will be modernised after Christmas. ‘Nowadays,’ says Sarah, ‘toilets are really important.’
Essentially, say the new owners, the pub’s style, described by Justin as ‘eclectic’, will remain unchanged. In winter huge logs burn in a double-sided open fire served by two large chimney breasts in the centre of the building. Walls are hung with work, all for sale, by local artists and photographers, and for the many customers who are walkers there will soon be on the wall a very large (3m x 3m) antique map of the local area, useful for plotting routes. The bar is popular with locals and many bring their dogs.
A few days later, I went back to The Three Mariners for lunch with fellow Faversham Life writer, Posy. It was on the food front, we noticed, that the boldest changes had been introduced. The emphasis now is on the Walker’s Menu at lunchtime– ‘lots of yummy dishes,’ says Sarah, ‘and more showstoppers to come.’ There’s a smaller a la carte menu, daily specials and another set menu in the evening. Fish features prominently and more fish dishes are planned. The wine list consists of carefully chosen wines from the New World as well as France and Spain; more wine will be available by the glass. Opening hours have been extended to ease pressure in the kitchen – 12 noon – 3pm at lunchtime and 6pm onwards in the evening – and bar snacks such as black pudding Scotch eggs are on their way.
Posy and I dithered happily for a while, then chose our starters: spicy chorizo, morcilla (Spanish black pudding) and Caprafico lentils for Posy and spicy whitebait with aioli for me. The whitebait were delicious, but Posy found her starter over salty. The waitress responded impeccably, listened intently to her mild complaint and undertook to communicate it to the kitchen. Posy’s main course was the garlic and smoked paprika fillet of cod, aioli, chips and seasonal vegetables, and mine was one of the specials, lamb rump with fondant potato. Neither of these dishes was particularly distinguished, it regretfully has to be said, but the meal ended on a satisfying note with Posy’s passion fruit and mascarpone mousse and my mixed berry Eton mess. We detected a loss of confidence in the kitchen, but familiarity with new ideas and dishes should restore this. The young waiting staff, as ever, brilliantly combined professionalism with a relaxed and friendly manner.
On 16 October the pub will close for the evening and Sarah, Justin, their guests John and Liz O’Riordan, previous owners of The Three Mariners, and the staff team will head for Ashford for the Kent Life Food and Drink Awards 2017. The pub has been nominated by customers for Pub of the Year and is one of three finalists. ‘It’s about recognition,’ says Sarah. The much-loved The Three Mariners, it would seem, is in good hands.
The Three Mariners
2 Church Road
Tel 01795 533633
Text: Sarah. Photography: Lisa