The Three Lions, Farncombe has been crowned Pub of the Year in the annual Shepherd Neame Pub Awards.
It was among 13 of the brewery’s pubs and hotels across London and the South East honoured in a glittering ceremony at the Conningbrook Hotel in Ashford on Tuesday, 30 June.
Awards were given for various aspects of running a successful pub, such as pouring the perfect pint, serving consistently great food and being at the heart of the local community.
The Three Lions’ accolade pays tribute to the tenacity and dedication of first-time licensees Sarah and Graham Firth and their team after the pub was gutted by a blaze in February 2014, just four weeks into their tenure at the pub and following a significant refurbishment.
Believed to be the oldest pub in the Surrey village, the fire devastated a third of the building, destroyed their possessions and rendered the pub uninhabitable. Despite this, they remained positive and just five months later they were back up and running and had even raised more than £1,000 for The Fire Fighters Charity to thank them for saving the pub.
The pub was previously well-known locally for its live music nights. Former media sales executive Sarah and her finance director husband Graham have maintained the live music programme, while using their business experience to broaden the pubs offer, which now includes great food, quiz nights and charity fundraising events.
Shepherd Neame chief executive Jonathan Neame, who presented the awards, said:
Sarah and Graham have taken to the pub business like ducks to water. Despite the huge challenge presented by the fire, they have remained cheerful and focused, and have only ever seen opportunities in their adversity - a thoroughly well-deserved award.
Sarah Firth said:
We are completely surprised and absolutely delighted, especially considering all the fantastic Shepherd Neame pubs out there. We don’t just see this as an award for ourselves; it’s a credit to whole the team at the pub. We’re just so chuffed!
The Pub Restaurant of the Year Award went to the Plough, Upper Dicker. Judges praised the professionalism, high standards and customer service and cited outstanding Trip Advisor reviews: “Amazing food, great service, repeat visitor.” The Pub Food of the Year Award was awarded to first-time licensees Elsie Innes and her partner Jordan Apps of the Peacock, Goudhurst who have turned a wet-led pub into a thriving destination food pub by offering ‘proper pub food at affordable prices’.
The Gate Inn, Marshside claimed the title of Beer Hero with judges praising licensee Glenn Hollingworth’s enhanced beer offer, which is served directly from the cask and keg in the cellar. The Zetland Arms, Kingsdown was named Wine Pub of the Year for their development of wine in the pub, which has seen sales rocket to almost 8,500 bottles a year.
Brendan McBride at the Sun Inn, Faversham was awarded Manager of the Year. A successful Shepherd Neame pub manager since 2001 and manager of the Sun inn for the last seven years, Brendan was recognised for his excellent team-building skills, which have contributed to the continued double-digit growth in trade.
The Managed Business of the Year award went to the Botany Bay Hotel, Kingsgate, which has been completely transformed. Managers Ian and Alison Farlane have exceeded expectations following a major redevelopment last year, building a customer-focused team and a business which is trading up significantly on last year.
The New Licensee of the Year Award was presented to Peter and Gill Allen from the Mermaid Inn, Bishopsbourne. Previously a money broker turned senior chef de partie at the Groucho Club and a dental practice manager respectively, the couple have proved experts in creating a fantastic pub experience. The Tenanted Pub of the Year Award went to Alessandro Tinti from the Imperial, Southborough, who with his wife Barbara and sister Stephania have brought a distinctly Italian flavour to the pub, while maintaining the feel of a ‘local’.
Dawn and Tony James, licensees of the Telegraph, Deal, received the Heart of the Community Pub of the Year award for their tireless local fundraising which has seen them raise more than £20,000 for various local causes since 2012, as well as their support and care for longstanding elderly customers. The Plough, Lewson Street, won Best Floral Display for its truly exceptional display of flowers sourced from a local farmer and cultivated by the pub’s licensees Carol and Kevin James.
Simon and Tanya Causton from the Caxton Arms, Brighton were honoured with the Turnaround Pub of the Year award, for transforming the pub into a vibrant meeting place. Drawing on their experience of running bars in Thailand, they serve Thai food cooked by Tanya, a comprehensive cocktail list and a sports cellar with many games including table tennis.
A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Les Koncsik of the Crown & Anchor, Faversham, who the judges described as ‘a Shepherd Neame institution’ after 45 years as a licensee. After arriving from Hungary aged just 16, he became licensee at The Kings Head, Abbey Street in 1970 for 12 years before taking over the Crown and Anchor in 1982. He has kept this popular community local ever since.
Jonathan Neame summed up the awards by saying:
Shepherd Neame pubs and hotels offer our customers a distinctive customer experience: a great portfolio of celebrated beers and unique wines; great fresh food; and warm, friendly service. These awards recognise the hard work, dedication, and creativity of all our licensees and are a celebration of excellence in this industry.
FULL LIST OF WINNING PUBS AND LICENSEES
Best Floral Display – Carol and Kevin James, The Plough, Lewson Street
Heart of the Community Pub of the Year – Dawn and Tony James, The Telegraph, Deal
Wine Pub of the Year – Tom and Karensa Miller, Zetland Arms, Kingsdown
Beer Hero – Glen Hollingworth, Gate Inn, Marshside
Turnaround / Transformation Pub of the Year – Simon and Tanya Causton, Caxton Arms, Brighton
Pub Food of the Year – Elsie Innes and Jordan Apps, The Peacock, Goudhurst
Restaurant of the Year – Angelena and Greg Churcher, The Plough, Upper Dicker
New Licensee of the Year – Peter and Gill Allen, Mermaid Inn, Bishopsbourne
Manager of the Year – Brendan McBride, Sun Inn, Faversham
Tenanted Pub of the Year – Alessandro and Barbara Tinti Imperial, Southborough
Managed Business of the Year – Ian and Alison Farlane, Botany Bay Hotel, Kingsgate
Lifetime Achievement – Les Koncsik, Crown & Anchor, Faversham
Shepherd Neame Pub of the Year – Sarah and Graham Firth, The Three Lions, Farncombe