May 2019: We’ve added Three Cranes in the City, the rebooted gastropub from Francophile chef Henry Harris (following on from The Coach in Clerkenwell and The Hero of Maida in W9). And in Soho, the weeny dining room Upstairs at The French House is once again turning heads thanks to the arrival of chef Neil Borthwick (ex-Merchants Tavern in Shoreditch).
London is the gastropub capital of the world and we’ve eaten our way through the lot and rounded up the very best. These are boozers that can compete with restaurants in the culinary stakes – they just happen to come with cracking Victorian buildings, and fires, and dogs (mostly). So whether you’re after fish and chips, or a roast, or an oxtail ragù, you’ve come to the right place. Because food tastes better with bags of atmos. Fact.
London’s best gastropubs
Nose-to-tail does it in the kitchen of this rollicking gastropub not far from Waterloo station, where cramped surrounds, jam-packed tables (no bookings), deliberately battered furniture and dressed-down service set the tone for an artful daily menu stuffed with butchers’ offcuts, wild pickings and seasonal scoff. Big, bold flavours are a given, whether you’re in the mood for snail and bacon kebabs, a pair of grilled Dover soles with chips and wild garlic butter or sautéed lamb’s sweetbreads with peas and mint. There are also trencherman joints of seven-hour lamb shoulder for three to share, plus deeply satisfying trad desserts such as flourless chocolate cake or buttermilk pudding with Yorkshire rhubarb. The no-choice ‘workers’ lunch is a steal, bookable Sunday lunches are a regular sell-out and there are some perky European wines to wash it all down. Handily placed for the Young and Old Vic theatres.
Whether you’re after one of Deptford’s best scotch eggs or a slap-up dinner for two, this reborn Victorian boozer right next to Brookmill Park is an asset worth knowing about. Fancy food, local booze and a community-minded approach (quizzes, exhibitions, pilates, salsa, gin masterclasses etc) ensure a humming local crowd, so join the throngs for some tempting pub classics – anything from ham hock terrine with tomato chutney to chicken and ham pie with mash and savoy cabbage, Cumberland sausages, burgers, beer-battered haddock or flat iron steaks with all the trimmings. Veggies also get a decent look-in, while puds might include strawberry tart. Wetting your whistle pays dividends too, with creative cocktails, decent wines and real ales from surrounding boroughs – look for names such as Gipsy Hill, Belleville and Brockley on tap. The pub also sports a big beer garden.
Pedigree counts, and with siblings including Waterloo’s Anchor & Hope and Canton Arms in Stockwell, there’s no doubting the class of this revamped Victorian boozer on Camberwell Church Street. Small plates, an open kitchen, blackboards and scrubbed tables – all the trademarks are here, and they even do a good line in rustic sharing dishes (Hereford beef, ale and bone-marrow pie, anyone?). Otherwise, we’re in ‘Britain greets the world’ territory: confit Jerusalem artichokes with pickled walnut mayo, spiced aubergine skewers with peanut sauce, roast skate with tartare sauce and new potatoes, and BBQ merguez-spiced lamb with chickpeas, yoghurt and peppers. For afters, spoil yourselves with a Black Forest sundae or rice pudding with marmalade ice cream. Wines, beers and other booze are all up to the mark, and the drinking continues until 2am (by arrangement) in the upstairs bar.
Like its close relations The Anchor & Hope and The Camberwell Arms, this swished-up neighbourhood pub on South Lambeth Road handles the booze-grub balancing act with confidence, keeping its drinkers happy with esoteric ales (Skinners Betty Stogs, say) while feeding gastro-minded locals with a daily hotchpotch of freewheeling gastropub dishes. We’re talking haggis and spring onion croquettes or cuttlefish rice with chorizo, saffron and aïoli for starters, ahead of honey-marinated quail, curried lamb pie or East Coast hake partnered by lentils and sauce gribiche. Also look to the blackboard for whopping sharing plates such as soy-braised beef short-ribs or seven-hour salt-marsh lamb shoulder with potato gratin. If you still have room after all that, try your luck with a pud such as blood orange and yoghurt cake or a scoop of rice pudding gelato. No bookings, but the owners run a waiting list for hopefuls.
Chef Henry Harris made his name at Racine (a much-missed bastion of bourgeois French cooking on Brompton Road), but this venture sees him in pubby mode as boss of the kitchen at The Coach (formerly The Coach & Horses) in Clerkenwell. Thankfully, he’s lost none of his Gallic brio, and you can taste the joie de vivre in every dish – fans of Racine will dote over old faves such as rich, unctuous calves’ brains with capers and black butter, steak tartare or juicy grilled rabbit served with a wee jug of mustard-spiked sauce. This is timeless food for a chilled-out local crowd, culminating in Anglo-French desserts such as chocolate fondant or apple and ginger crumble with crème anglaise. The renovated interior speaks of the pub’s Victorian heritage, with tartan armchairs and framed sketches in the clubby bar, plus a 1920s-style dining room upstairs and an intimate ‘back room’ opening on to the romantic garden.
It’s more than 20 years since Tom Conran opened The Cow, and the old girl is still mooing away happily in her urban grazing ground on Westbourne Park Road. We’ve got a soft spot for the delightfully scruffy Irish-themed saloon bar (pints of Guinness and Belgian beers with plates of oysters and other briny nibbles), although the main gastro action takes place in the upstairs dining room, which has been enlarged and colourfully smartened up with red banquettes and zany modern art. Seafood is also the big player here (dressed crabs, mussels in spicy shellfish broth, fish stew), although you can get chicken kiev, confit pork belly or bangers and mash if that’s your bag; also keep a lookout for more ambitious daily specials. For afters, how about spotted dick or banoffee pie, washed down with something suitable from the short, gutsy wine list?
Custom-built for riverbank revels, this grandiose, gastro-tastic boozer on a quiet stretch of the Thames between Hammersmith and Putney bridges comes complete with a gigantic beer garden and a covetable weeping willow by the water’s edge; there’s even a bar out here as well as a sizzling summertime ‘BarBQ’. If you’d rather be indoors, stake your boozy claim in the high-vaulted lounge bar (pints of regularly changing real ales await) or head to the restaurant for sizzling BBQ classics, pies, finger-lickin’ rotisserie plates and more tricksy ideas such as seared tuna with pickled cucumber, teriyaki-glazed aubergine, pumpkin arancini with taleggio and black-olive crumb or miso-glazed lamb rump with confit belly, vegetable yakitori and smashed soy beans. Desserts, meanwhile, are calorific classics including blueberry, cherry and white chocolate mess. The Crabtree also scores a hit with its comedy club, live music, the ’largest pub quiz in west London’ and riotous annual Boat Race Festival.
Named after Nicholas Culpeper (the seventeenth-century herbalist who lived nearby), this sprawling venue is a real tonic for the East End crowd with its offer of four floors of fun including a pub, kitchen/restaurant, bedrooms and a rooftop garden that doubles as a growing patch and seasonal pop-up space. Culpeper’s menu takes the ‘seasonal food, local food’ mantra to new heights, and you can taste the results by ordering, say, courgette risotto with goat’s curd and mint or crispy egg with celery pesto, confit celeriac and walnut oil. There are also more meaty plates of bavette steak or Welsh lamb with sweetbreads, rösti, watercress and tapenade, ahead of cheeky desserts including rhubarb and almond ‘not a tiramisu’ or pear compote and peanut butter mille-feuille. Above all, The Culpeper is an easy mix of eating and drinking under one roof, with enough real ales to satisfy the most hard-core Camra zealot.
An above-snuff Islington local well away from the Upper Street fray, this high-ceilinged green-hued gastropub delivers exactly what the locals expect – pricey but desirable wines (including loads by the glass and carafe), three real ales on rotation, generously proportioned interiors, neutral decor and thoughtfully seasonal Brit-accented cooking with a few global twists. On a typical day, you might be treated to prawns with spiced mango sauce or lamb’s heart with a beef-dripping pancake and pickled red cabbage, ahead of suet-crusted chicken and mushroom pie, pearl barley risotto with courgettes and asparagus or cod with spiced potatoes, spinach and curry butter. After that, perhaps take a punt on pineapple tarte tatin or rhubarb panna cotta with pistachio crumble. Cheeses come courtesy of Neal’s Yard, and Sunday lunch sees some ginormous roasts called into action. There’s also a secluded patio garden out back for balmy days and nights.
Hailed as the granddaddy of all gastropubs, The Eagle has been showing others how it should be done since 1991. From the off, it got the formula just right, mixing bashed-up furniture with real ales, blackboard menus and a savvy collection of wines by the glass. A glossy wooden ceiling, buttermilk walls and an ash floor set the scene, the kitchen’s tiny (room for just two chefs), and you’re expected to order at the bar from a short menu that’s scrawled up on the blackboard just five minutes before service begins. Everyone knows about the famous ‘bife ana’ (a Portuguese-style marinated steak sandwich), but the day’s choice of earthy Med-accented dishes could take in anything from pan-fried scallops with chorizo, chickpeas, guindilla peppers and chilli jam to grilled napoli sausages with puy lentils, tomato and white cabbage salad. There are usually a few simple tapas plates too, plus a trio of ‘afters’ including the famous ‘pastel de nata’ custard tarts.