It might jump the shark slightly with the seasonal/local theme, but this pub can't be faulted for its excellent food, drinks, service and ambience.
The ‘seasonal and local food’ mantra is taken to silly heights at this gastropub in the heart of London’s East End, where salad leaves and some herbs for the kitchen are grown in planters on the roof garden. It’s a bit of fun – and maybe a bit of on-trend window-dressing too. No roof garden can keep a busy kitchen in produce. But ignore the pathos of such tokenism, because everything else about this pub – drinks, service, ambience and, above all, the excellent dishes – towers over any commitment to high-level horticulture.
Culpeper (formerly the Princess Alice) occupies a corner site facing Petticoat Lane Market. It was a Truman’s pub for much of the last 130 years, and remains a handsome Victorian inn, with the brewery signage preserved. The new owners have improved the frontage, laid beautiful parquet floors, installed a curvaceous bar and added industrial-style lighting – the result is a treat, fitting perfectly with both building and location.
Even more useful than adding a roof garden or having a good eye for Ercol chairs is being able to pick a good chef. Sandy Jarvis was formerly head chef at the acclaimed Terroirs, and his style is recognisable: unfussy dishes; simple presentation; great terrines; a focus on flavour.
‘Pig’s head’ croquettes contained shreds of unctuous pork, their flavour-packed fattiness contrasting with the sharp and vinegary tang of pickled walnuts. A ploughman’s was equally to the point: peppery, rich meat with a simple pickle, an apple and a wedge of sharp cheese.
The details are good where they matter: sardines were simply grilled, and served with a nutty romesco sauce the deep red of ripe peppers. The ingredients are unfailingly fresh too: a globe artichoke was pert and fleshy, and came with spiced crab butter. Prices are fair; the terrific bread and anchovy butter are free.
Culpeper offers an easy mix of drinking and dining in the same space – it’s a proper gastropub, not a pub with a dining room – and the beers will please any real ale enthusiast. On our visit, these included zesty Mad Goose Purity pale ale, hoppy summer ale from Hop Back, and session ales from Hogs Back and Fuller’s. There are also several London craft brews by the bottle, a French and Italian wine list that is entirely organic, a decent cocktail list and even some excellent own-made soft drinks.
Culpeper – named after Nicholas Culpeper, the seventeenth-century English herbalist, who lived in nearby Spitalfields – is a tonic for any East Ender.