No one seems to have informed the Antic group that Britain is in the grip of a devastating recession or that our pub trade is on its knees. It recently opened three pubs in one fortnight across London – the Catford Bridge Tavern, the Sylvan Post in Forest Hill and Pratt’s & Payne, formerly a Goose in Streatham Hill – taking its current total (both serving and in production) to 29. Some of its earlier pubs and bars are great, such as the Tooting Tram & Social, Balham Bowls Club, and the Antelope.
And this one’s interesting – the former White Hart Hotel (briefly Chimes, a music venue) stands alone beside the desperately unlovely Lea Bridge Road roundabout, and is so far the only pub in this part of ‘up-and-coming’ Clapton that has spruced itself up in preparation for the influx of up-and-comers. But thankfully, it’s not a fancy sort of place – it’s very much in the current ‘decorators done a runner halfway through’ style, which highlights original features and leaves the wattle and daub walls and ceilings exposed and raw.
Someone’s had great fun furnishing and embellishing the Hart too – there’s a whole junk-shop-worth of knick-knacks, novelties and gimcracks on shelves, tables and plinths. There are many dark corners for canoodling couples to share a bottle of wine, but Clapton really does have a big Hart now – it’s fairly massive, with another upstairs room due to open and a garden currently being populated with plants.
Eight real ales celebrate London and British brewers (Deuchar’s IPA, Redemption Trinity, a couple from Devilfish Brewery in the West Country on our visit), and a simple food menu that included a fine Welsh rarebit and poached egg, and leek and parmesan risotto, should suit locals just fine – it’s not too expensive, but what we tried was made with care.
Judging by our early-days visit, those locals have already taken the Hart to heart – it was busy on a Wednesday night with a varied crowd of starving artists, first-time buyers, dedicated Claptonites, women with dogs and the young hipsters who have realised Dalston’s not all it’s cracked up to be.