Royal Oak, Tabard St

In a classic cheek-by-jowl corner of south London, where the shiny nests of polished Bermondseers nudge up against humbler estates, is this place, a confusing, historic collision of capital pub life.

royal-oak_1708313c

Here is the exterior. Sweaty chefs not in picture. Thanks to http://i.telegraph.co.uk/ for the image.

The exterior suggests a propah cockney sweat lodge, with genteel privacy curtains to hide the shifty boat races of those inside. Matt brown tiling trumpets the name of Harveys, which suggests something else altogether more stolid and calm. So, onwards and inwards, through the door, which looks as it might be the original fitting… Impressive.

The interior is a hurly-burly of cultural touchpoints. There is a decent proportion of dark, scuffed lacquer to suggest solid history. But then, countering a sense of heritage set in aspic, are various crappily written signs on luminous paper stuck here and there, advertising food and drink. It’s a curious mix of yeasty wartime nostalgia and Costcutter 2-for-1 madness.

What is also mad, given everything – its location, its appearance, its be-trackie-bummed Polish barstaff – is the flipping prices. Jesus. This place, of all places in the world, was where I first met a £4 pint of lager. And not any of your Staropramen mush – no, this was a Becks or something. Four quid! In a fusty rabbit hole in Southwark!

Anyway.

The confusion reigned further on taking Sunday lunch upstairs. It was in all aspects a perfect ‘upstairs room’ – a clatter of chairs and tables, random awful paintings of animals on the walls, heat oh god the heat, like no-one had opened the windows in 35 years, and an acoustic that kills a laugh in 0.3 seconds flat, but amplifies silence to unbearable levels. The kind of discomfiting space to render a group of decades-old friends awkward and, almost, polite.

The chef sticks his head round the door – oh dear lord. Soggy, is the only word to describe the combination of thinning, matted grey hair, dishcloth shoulder and tracksuit bottoms hanging horrifically low for a man of his age. His three remaining top teeth give it the upside-down Star Trek sign as he leers at us all. ‘I hope you’re not too hungry, I’ve got orders back to here and I’m baking,’ he crows, a delicious Crispness to his tone. What the huh? This is all kinds of extraordinary.

The ‘menu’ –the names of some animals, written on a piece of scrap paper is thrust onto the table. We study it, at a distance… Hang about, rabbit? Squab pigeon? Duck? This is a bit adventurous. I mean – look at him! Look at it all!

But we stick with the programme – and we are rewarded with delights. A half hour wait presents us with the sight of our poor, overworked chef de camp struggling into the room laden down with huge plates of excellently cooked birds and beasts, with gravies, yorkshires and vegetables of such proportion as to render a handful of England’s greediest fatheads stupefield.

Finished, we stagger downstairs, full of cheer and chicken, past the bar, where the skinheaded Polish staff stare at us as balefully, just as they had done on our arrival. But I swear I can see something in those glares: a hint of warmth; a recognition that we’d done the right thing. We’d allowed the confusion and suspicion to wash over us and we had been rewarded.

4 Tabard Street
London SE1 4JU

The Shaston Arms, Ganton St, Soho

A stroll down Carnaby St is one way to ruin a decent mood. Its memetic pre-eminence amongst British thoroughfares is due to the fact that it is a street with shops on it. Apparently they’re really good shops. So good that streets of truly historical import-  the Watlings, Broadwicks and Cables of this world – are relegated to the footnotes, whilst Carnaby gets those self-congratulatory signs at either end and one of those licences to print money we hear so much about.

I’m sorry, but if being a contrarian, mithering old sod whingeing about the takeover of material culture in Western society is a crime, then STICK ME IN THE DOCK AND GET A DUDE IN A WIG TO PATRONISE ME.

Luckily, ‘Carnaby London’, as the local shopkeepers association so vogueishly calls it, can only last so long, and if you hold your breath at Great Marlborough St and plug away, you’ll be spat out into the (slightly) more comforting back-streets of Soho in no time at all.

One of these side-steps takes you to Ganton St, and the jolly old boozer The Shaston Arms.

The Shaston Arms, Ganton St, Soho from their website

Interior of The Shaston Arms, Ganton St, Soho – taken from their website

It’s still a pub in Soho, so it’s never going to be your favourite place in the whole world, and Badger beer isn’t my favourite, but it’s nooky and boothy and woody, cramped and relaxed, a knockabout type of place. It’s probably been done extremely artfully, to pick up the detritus who fancy themselves beyond the commercial hurly-burly, so all I’m doing here is being second-guessed. I’m a patsy. But I’m a pissed patsy, with no outsized shopping bags to lug home with me. Much better.

4-6 Ganton Street,
Soho, London,
W1F 7QL
Tel: 0872 148 0917

The Thomas Cubitt, Elizabeth St SW1

The journey of the pub and its position in the eyes of society, 1980-2010: a thesis.

If only I could be arsed/clever enough to do such a thing: there’s broadsheet supplements to do that for me. But this place is all that we know of gastro, of the smoking ban, from Jamie Oliver through to that jowly eggy chump ‑ it’s the story of food in public. As a historical diorama, you can pop round the corner to the godawful Duke of York to look at an object example of how far we’ve come. It’s all very educational, really.

The Thomas Cubitt, Elizabeth St SW1 from their website

The exterior of Thos. Cubitt’s establishment. This photo came from The Thomas Cubitt

Back at the TC, you can barely get to the bar for the chairs and tables, but no matter – this pub has table service. Actually, it’s Service with a capital S: not a teenager with a fistful of Post-Its, but a smartly choreographed front of house operation that goes a long way to quell those rising notes of bile when you realise that despite the sign, the ‘The’ in the name, the corner location, this is an eating house in Belgravia, and that in the eyes of the majority of the clientele, those popping in for a pint are, basically,  delinquent rejects.

The Thomas Cubitt Pub

This is a pub. Yes, a pub. Supposedly. (This photo came from The Elizabeth Street London)

The food is fantastic; the staff are great; the light-filled front area and fandaculous interior decoration makes you feel a million dollars. It’s expensive, OF COURSE IT IS, so obvious it’s barely worth mentioning, but I did because I’m a penny-pinching shit.  You could do a lot worse, a whole lot worse, a universe worth of worse in this part of the world; suck up the snazz of the plummiest pub you’ll find within spitting distance of a coach station.

44 Elizabeth Street
London, UK SW1W 9PA
Tel: 020 7730 6060

The Old Bell Tavern

London is a city known for its heritage in historical buildings and places as well as beer and wine. The city is full of life and vigor even in the middle of the night. One of the many special features of the beautiful city of London is its nightlife; the pubs. These pubs are known for their warm and cozy atmosphere, delicious food and intoxicating wines.

One of its best pubs is the Old Bell Tavern every part of which reflects class and elegance. The place is situated at 95 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH, United Kingdom. Fleet Street is a very important and busy street of London or you could say it’s a sort of a commercial area. There are quite a number of office buildings everywhere on the Fleet Street. The area stays crowded at all times. It is also one of the busiest trading sectors in the city

Furthermore, its historical significance and the presence of monuments and statues makes it an excellent tourist attraction. There are quite a few pubs in the Fleet Street and most of them are excellent in merit and reputation, The Old Bell Tavern is one of them. It is one of the oldest pubs in London and one of the best as well.

The Old Bell Taven, from Nichosonspubs website

The Old Bell Taven, from Nichosonspubs website

The Old Bell Tavern is one of the oldest licensed taverns in London, having been run as a licensed pub for over three hundred years. It was built by Sir Christoper Wren back in the seventeenth century.

The pub has a cozy and homelike air on the outside as well as the inside. The lightly stained colored glass at the front of this pub makes it look warm and welcoming. The stone floors, the stained glass and the flowers on top of the door give it an ancient look of simplicity and warmth of a home.

The interior of the old tavern is just as warm as its exterior, if not more. It is the perfect place for a family get-together. The food cooked here is mouth-watering, and the wines are just so good, you can’t help asking for more and more. The homelike atmosphere and the gentle and welcoming attitude of the staff make you feel at ease.

The food is delicious to a mouthwatering extent. They offer quite a wide range of dishes from starters to sides and nibbles in the main menu. In addition to that, the occasional menus are also there; ready to surprise you with taste and delight.

The Old Cavern not only has a huge variety of food on its menus but also has a wide range of liquor.  From the scented gins, golden crafted beers and ciders to the wines of all kinds, they have it all. The liquor, over here, is just so great; every sip will make you want more. They offer wine suitable for every dish they serve.

One thing you must know about the Old Bell tavern apart from its awesome food and intoxicating drinks is the fact that the French fries they make are beyond amazing. While I was there at The Old Bell Tavern, the French fries I had ordered got my attention the moment they were served. I personally fell in love with them. Firstly, because they were served just a few minutes after I placed the order. No, they were not the old ones; they were freshly fried, burning hot. So, I asked one of the waiters about which appliance did the cook use for the fries. They mentioned a deep fryer they bought from Amazon and I decided to get it for my kitchen too.

95 Fleet Street
London EC4Y 1DH
Phone: +44 20 7583 0216

The Dickens Inn, St Katherine Docks

I stand shadowed by Tower Bridge, buffeted by multilingual coos and clicks. The most pomp-jazz bridge in the world glitters above me, throwing stardust into our delighted faces to conceal its main purpose as an arterial route into the bearpits of the City. What a lovely con trick.

There’s lots of that around these parts.  Buildings perform for the crowd, while inside deadening hands flicker at keyboards. I guess the point is – you can see it, can’t you – something about books and covers. Oh, hey! Here we are in St Katherine Docks.

There, in the corner of the marinaplex, lies the multi-storey clapboard-and-redbrick Dickens Inn, replete with balconies redolent of the coaching inns of yore. I suppose they were going for a Corporate Tudor aesthetic. It’s a strong vision, you’ve got to give them that.

The Dickens Inn, St Katherine Docks from their website

There it is, a Hanging Garden in modern Babylon. Nice.

It’s a bit sharp on the edges, and clean on the floor, to really get any kind of proper olde-worlde vibe going on. But nobody seems to mind, seeing as they’re all too busy necking cheap rosé or crowding round sports tellies to give an eff about the authenticity of the place. And fair enough, you might say. At least it’s not a wine bar, or a sports bar, or a bar, even. It’s a pub, deep in one of the more optimally monetised leisure zones within the Financial District. It’s almost heartening to see tables stacked high with half-empty glasses and snack-plastic detritus – at least you’re allowed in the door.

Marble Quay
St Katharines Way
London
E1W 1UH

Inn on the Quay / Spotted Cow, Poole

To Poole, then – just down the road from Sandbanks, the bewjewelled teardrop in the Bournemouth Bay. People spend millions in order to live there. The surrounding areas must be nice, too.

Poole preconceptions: gentility-on-sea, abutting onto mossy, comforting estuarial waters. Hanging baskets outside Georgian terraces, gulls whickering overhead. Blue rinses, quiet tedium, the odd deli-cafe, quite a bit of pottery.

Poole reality: not so. We follow the main road down to where the internet tells me there are boats. Boats surely equals civilisation, no? A little caff, a classy little pub dishing out some freshly-landed treats, with some local ales and cloudy cider…

This is the image the website ‘World Heritage Coast’ chose to show off Poole. They’re right, you know.

The road takes us past endless, mindless residentia until it comes to a chrome-barriered halt, at which point we’re confronted by a sight that makes you throw your eyes heavenward and mutter ‘for heaven’s sake, England, sort it out’. There, on the water’s front, where St Tropez has its marina, Mombasa has its old fort, Sydney has its opera house, Brighton has its pier – Poole has a 1970s shopping centre, with a parade of grubby fast-food outlets as its centrepiece, and a concrete works.

This was supposed to be dingly, not dingy.

A cursory tour around the ‘old quarter’ didn’t bring to light any hidden gems. By this time, the wind had whipped itself up into a fury and those low-lying grey banks of cloud had begun to spit. It was approaching half past two, and we were in the provinces. Uh-oh. Having failed to discover anywhere approaching feasible for our lunch, the feet carried us on and around, up alley and down thoroughfare until… until we were back where we started.

Spectacular views of the harbour’. Now there’s promising. A quick glance left: large piles of concrete. What’s it called? Inn on the Quay? Or the Spotted Cow? I can’t work it out.

Undaunted, with the thought that maybe the one-storey rise will help us see beyond the heavy industry to the sun-dappled sea, we head upstairs, past the muffin-topped barmaid and the goateed teenager sat ogling her.

A classic Saturday-afternoon upstairs of a pub – glasses and chairs hither and thither, whether from lunch or the night before never quite clear, laminated menus tossed to the four corners. Generally giving off the impression that someone had started doling out free chips down the road, and everyone had made a bolt for the door and never returned.

A gel-headed lad in an overexcited t-shirt approached: full of beams! A bit of banter! Ahhh. Laughs about the views of the harbour. Bonhomie through the bones, a giggle, a shared glance with wife – all will be alright, won’t it. Yes. I’ll have a burger, I’m famished.

“Oh, I recommend that one. It’s massive. You’ll never finish it.”

I’d forgotten about that – the idea that oversized portions are desirable. That somehow, two pounds of minced meat and cheese in a bun all for a fiver shouldn’t strike you as worrying, or a bit over the top. That the unholy alliance of gluttony and a dislike of unnecessary waste will force you into going further than you might have wished to with this grilled lump of fatty meat, overlooking a concrete works, as the rain spits against the window.

Inn on the Quay  from Trip Advisor

It’s also called the Spotted Cow. Thanks to Trip Advisor for the photo, anyways.

But you know what? A smile, a pint of lager and some meat in a bun are cornerstones of a decent pub experience. So the beer’s unexciting. So I don’t want to know where the mince came from. But they fed and watered me, and were nice about it. Thanks, team Quay/Cow, whatever you’re called these days.

2 High Street
Poole BH15 1BW
Phone: 01202 673854

Woodborough Inn, Winscombe, Somerset

There’s no getting away from it – I’m going to sound patronising writing this. It’s not a fancy place, the Woodborough. Not got a lot to shout about, really. Its USP is, perhaps, that it’s a pub in a town. The carpets swirl; the barstaff perspire in ill-fitting shirts; the regulars humph and sup.  There are pictures of old Winscombe on the walls, and some of horses. The beer is unadventurous, but well kept.

Woodborough Inn, Winscombe, Somerset from their website

The Woodborough – solid stuff

All in all, the word that springs to mind is sturdy. It’s a you-know-where-you-are kind of place.  The barstaff greet you with unadorned friendliness, and its Sunday roasts are an uncomplicated pile of deliciousness for eight quid or so. They get the papers in, and not a lot happens (at least, not during our daytime visit).

Sometimes, I worry that pubs of this ilk are going to disappear forever.

But – and there’s no getting away from it – this is because I’m pretentious. I spend too long being seen coming. I lap up my aged beef and poorly-controlled vegetable portions (yours for just £15!) in the belief that this is how life is, everywhere.

And by ‘I’ I also mean ‘you’, you know. Because you internetters, bloggers, bewhiskered, flat-capped drinkers, I see you in there too, accepting your expensive drink in those ironically-wallpapered surrounds, shiny wooden floorboards beneath your feet, enjoying the warm sensation of being around those who resemble you in some way or other.

We’re neither right nor wrong. But it’s nice to get away from whoever you are, once in a while.

Sandford Rd
Winscombe, Avon BS25
Tel: 01934 844 167

Tunnel House Inn, nr Coates, Gloucestershire

Out of Bristol we go. 20 minutes in the car, we’re scooting along high-hedged country roads, slicking the paintwork with mud. A further 15 minutes later, we’re through a series of covetable, hotch-potch villages with dinky names: Westonbirt, Culkerton, Tarlton. We’re on our way to John Betjeman’s favourite pub, a curious building hidden away down a bumpy track, lying in wait by a disused canal.

Tunnel House Inn, nr Coates, Gloucestershire from I Telegraph

External view of Tunnel House Inn – under the lens of I Telegraph.

On arrival, we discovered that its timber-vaulted, cosy interior was packed to the gunwales, the drinkers of a distinctly monied variety. There was overheard chat of London flats, Jake and George the terrible toddlers, George and Charlie the absoleetly gawgeous garls. So we hid in a corner, surrounded by braying adults, teenagers and children. Three generations of relaxed chins and amour propre. Would they ruin the day?

They went away. The food arrived in a thankfully quietened room, affording us airspace to worship our roasts – I cannot remember the last time I ate beef that had been hung for so long and cooked so well. Tender, rich and warming, in an unctuous gravy that spoke of hours of diligence, accompanied by enormous roast potatoes of the ideal constitution, crisp carapaces with floury, doughy hearts, a yorkshire pudding certainly not from cardboard packaging, and enough crunchy vegetables to make the inner nutritionist happy and the tastebuds sing. Drowned by a pint of Old Spot for me and a Stowford Press cider for my dining partner, this was Sunday heaven.

Not completely, though. We are idle Ulysseans, a louche Lewis & Clark. We strove ever onwards, riding the rainbow of earthly pleasures to its very end, the pot of gold – a pot of fresh-leaf tea and the golden moat of custard around a treacle sponge from Two Toads tearooms in Tetbury.

Sated.

So sated.

The Tunnel House Inn

Tarlton Road, Coates, Nr. Cirencester, Glos, GL7 6PW

Royal Oak, Poynings, Brighton

Swaddled in ersatz rusticity, sheltered from the southwesterly winds by the South Downs escarpment, immune to the pains of the banking crisis thanks to its proximity to the wealthy enclaves of Hove, Haywards Heath and Lewes, this pub couldn’t be more comfortable if it was *something something Edmund Blackadder  something*

I wouldn’t say it was resting on its laurels too much – they’ve made great efforts with the garden, although it’s crying out for a boules pit. But the interior is as expected – paved flooring, shiny soft leather seats, a slight over-cramming of tables into the building’s various crannies.

Royal Oak, Poynings, Brighton from Trip Advisor

Those awnings look expensive, don’t they?

The victuals conformed to type:  pint of relatively local ale at international hotel prices; the cost of a Sunday roast in double figures. Over-described pub staples (the beef in the burger lived in a cottage in the next door village where it was fed cream teas and seaweed, or some shit like that). Customers gleamed. The barstaff were tall and thin. Our kids made a hell of a racket and threw stuff all over the shop.

We gobbled and ran, a good number of pounds further away from living anywhere near this place.

The Royal Oak
Brighton BN45 7AQ
Tel: 01273 857389 ‎