As relentlessly and inevitably as Aussie wickets, one by one the traditional pubs of Clapton fall to the trendy young incomers moving to this previously infamously murderous part of Hackney. Last year it was the Hart, last month the Windsor Castle, this week the Crooked Billet. I can think of a couple that have so far resisted the charge, but I won’t mention them here. Is this gentrification of the east London boozer a bad thing? I suppose it depends which side you’re on – if craft beers, sharing plates and ironic taxidermy are your thing, then yes, but if you’re a lifelong Claptonite who’s happy with things just the way they are, you’re probably eyeing up that semi in Brentwood even more keenly. But don’t worry – the Billet has room for every generation of E5.
The pub has a redbrick, functional handsomeness, rebuilt as it was in the 1950s. Hence the huge car park, which latterly didn’t see much use – that short stroll from the motor to the boozer and back is a path less trodden these days. But new owners have used this defunct space to hugely enlarge the rear garden, installing inclement-weather booths, a ping pong table and acres of decking. There are even deckchairs, for that ‘Clapton-on-Sea’ feel. Nothing like it can be found for miles, and it ensured the Billet was filled to the gills in recent weeks.
The inside’s not a bad look either – it’s had a general tarting up, and the beer has been improved greatly. Real ales are well served and there’s a focus on the many varieties now brewed in the area, like the new Five Points, or the established Hackney Brewery (an undeniable upside of this local pub revolution). Food is, as the owners themselves describe it, pub grub – burger, fish and chips, sausage and mash and so on. Our early days visit suggested a bit of work still needs to be done in the kitchen – four out of 12 mussels in a starter were closed and inedible, for instance – but perhaps this will follow, as these owners also run the well-regarded Empress near Victoria Park.
Reviewed by Euan Ferguson