London pubs haven’t been having an easy time of it. Earlier this year, statistics showed the capital was losing one a week. A method of preservation these days is to evolve, and food is top on the list for a makeover. Some of the city’s most popular pubs have become more restaurants than traditional inns, and what constitutes A Pub is now up for debate. Here, then, is the best pub grub London has to offer: the snacks, plates, and bites that pair most perfectly with a pint of choice.Read More
The Tastiest Pub Grub in London
The city’s best pub grub — deeply savoury sausage rolled in rich, flaky pastry, a cavalcade of scotch eggs, crisps in sandwiches, and more
1. The Duke of Richmond
Like the best of them, chef Tom Oldroyd’s The Duke of Richmond divides its fancier dining room and its bar. On the Hackney pub bar menu, traditional dishes such as whole baked cheese and bread are taken up a notch and provided proper care and attention: instead of breaded camembert, find a slab of baked Tunworth with cornichons; crunchy pig’s ears replace hairy shrapnel in bags. The Cornish crab and chip butty has won plaudits, as have the pies, which are cunning little Victorian morsels of pleasure. Pleasingly, there are also chipsticks, which should be available in all pubs.
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2. The Wenlock Arms
The Wenlock Arms was saved from demolition in June 2013. It took some campaigning. Thankfully, Hackney Council saw fit to rescue the boozer, reportedly a favourite of David Beckham and his grandfather. Visit today and it is easy to see why ensuring the pub’s future was so important. It’s a considered blend of old and new, dart board and craft beer, and vegan sausage rolls. Behind the hanging baskets is a solid selection of real ales, buttery toasties and pies. The Wenlock shows sport, too. An enduring establishment.
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3. Marksman Public House
A slightly more refined affair, Marksman does pub grub with panache. Prices remain affordable, and there are often playful snacks such as Lincolnshire poacher and pickled prune puffs, or pig cheek terrine with green bean chutney on offer. On Saturdays, there’s a two-course menu for just £22. Lunch at Jamie’s Italian would probably cost more. Plump Old Spot sausages with white cabbage, pickled mackerel with tomato and horseradish, and meat-filled fluffy buns are all satisfying reasons to head for Hackney Road.
4. The Sun Tavern
The Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green has managed to balance its east London roots with the idle creep of gentrification. It is not an easy or common skill, and should be rewarded. While the drinks list is expansive — particular attention should be paid to the poitin, and please ask for a white negroni — the food is kept simple. Scotch eggs ooze as they should, with peppery pork meat and richly golden breadcrumbs, and the herby sausage rolls are served with hot English mustard and brown sauce. Condiments are treated with the respect they deserve.
5. The Coach
Chef Henry Harris will be relishing the reviews of The Coach thus far. The pub only opened in 2018 but has already become a scratching post for the savviest of diners. It is one of the better venues for Sunday lunch, and on weekday dinners, grilled sea bass is bedded with prawns and samphire; confit duck leg might arrive with delicate lentils and cream. It is generally a more upmarket proposition — the likes of pommes sarladaises and croziflette are testament to that. There’s plenty of rich, French cooking. But it’s also just as easy to sit down to a bowl of chips, or steamed prawns and bread, or calves brain on toast. Or all three and a bottle of house red. Nibbles at the bar are just as satisfying.
6. The Royal Oak
London W1H 1QN, UK
Chef Dan Doherty was always poised to open a decent boozer. The pub, happily airy and welcoming, opened in 2018 and the chef has steered proceedings towards modernity without pretence. There are dishes such as burrata with peas, mint, and pistachio — delicate, precise cooking but not exactly classic pub grub — but it’s all the better for it: they work well alongside the stars of the show, which are jauntier plates like ‘nduja scotch eggs and fried merguez sausage in filo pastry. The cheese toastie, with Lord of the Rings-like shards of cheddar, parmesan, and mozzarella, sums up the pub perfectly: the apparent pursuit of total happiness. Also, look out for the ever-changing sandwiches. Sometimes there are crisps inside.
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7. The Cow Pub & Dining Rooms
The Cow was selling Guinness and oysters long before people checked internet websites for ideas about where to eat. It’s a cosy venue, and one of the few that serves winkles and whelks to precede popular Portland crab or lamb stew with carrots, potatoes and celery. There’s something profoundly honest about pubs such as The Cow. Should the sight of chopped parsley fill somebody with a feeling of coming home, it is somewhere to spend time. Be it half a pint of prawns or a chicken Kiev, the pub is a lasting joy; see also, Tayto crisps.
8. The Wigmore
The full menu at The Wigmore might be up for debate, but the bar snacks are absolutely not. Crumpets, one of the dishes of 2018, are topped with crab and drenched in butter; chicken skewers come with equally fashionable XO sauce; ham croquetas are exactly what’s required when escaping the toils of Oxford Circus. The Wigmore isn’t cheap and — contrary to what it might purvey — it is not a pub, per se. But it might get away with being called a tavern, especially when replenishing oneself with masala Scotch eggs, beef and onion pies or giant cheese toasties.
9. The Guinea Grill
The Guinea Grill restaurant opened in 1952, but the pub has been around much longer. Records indicate an inn on the site as far back as 1423, and for a long while patrons have been able to eat as well as drink. While the restaurant is a steak and oyster-filled affair, the bar menu — brilliantly printed on a beer mat since this month — includes warming devilled kidneys on toast, succulent lamb chops, and fine sausage rolls. Meat is sourced from Godfrey’s, a stalwart of a London butcher; pies appear embellished by paper ruffs and crisp pastry gives way to the most nourishing of fillings. No food is better paired with beer.
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10. The Wheatsheaf
The Wheatsheaf is a Borough Market institution. It is a glorious pub and effective in its coherence. The sandwiches should be the first port of call, whether fish fingers or beef shin and pickles or some other creation; buttermilk fried chicken makes for a tasty bowl; the sausage rolls mustn’t be ignored. Be warned, however: The Wheatsheaf’s location means punters might want to be tactical if seeking a hake fish cake of an evening. It’s usually worth waiting until the after work crowd have gone before settling down to curly fries. Or go, drink, then mop up the beer with cheddar bites and chutney. One plate, generous as it is, won’t be enough.
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11. The Fox and Pheasant
One of the great surprises of 2018 is James Blunt opening not just a pub, but a credible one. The Fox and Pheasant — or ‘Fox and Fez’ to loafer-wearing locals — is posh, obviously. But just as Blunt has a spectacular sense of humour, so too does his pub. Alongside the standard snacks of chilli squid and cod cheek scampi are plump beef shin croquettes and buttermilk fried guinea fowl. The chips are great and so is the service. Don’t overlook it.
12. The Camberwell Arms
As of 2018, The Camberwell Arms is five years old. Since conception it has been as good a gastropub as anywhere in London. Headed up by the team behind Frank’s in Peckham, and formerly part of the Anchor and Hope / Canton Arms lineage, it somehow portrays a sense of effortless endeavour, despite the fact it cannot possibly be effortless at all. Insouciant to a fault. Next to ham, egg and chips are barbecued meats and vegetables; fish and seafood are also given ample footing — Cornish hake and Jersey royals, perhaps, or vongole. There aren’t many pubs that do pasta as well as they do sausages — both are homemade, by the way.
13. The Signal Pub
The Signal, in Forest Hill, is all about onion rings, burgers and skin on fries and big plates of rotisserie chicken built for mayonnaise and lemon juice. It’s fun food, easy food, food so common in pubs these days it’s hardly worth mentioning. It’s pleasing, though, and the beer selection is excellent. But the most admirable thing at The Signal is the charcuterie board, with cured meats from Cumbria, Suffolk, and Manchester. With every three mouthfuls, interspersed with West Country cheddar and sourdough bread, another pint is required. The pub does this board unassumingly, and has been championing regional charcuterie for ages.
14. Westow House
Antic pubs are contrived, certainly, but serve a purpose. Westow House in Crystal Palace, Catford Constitutional Club, Tooting Tram & Social and the East Dulwich Tavern are all mainstays in their locale. Regulars are as consistent as the pubs themselves. Juicy sausage rolls are one frequent menu item worth trying, as are bacon and egg sandwiches. Menus differ between pubs, with some hosting pop-up ventures; other establishments are far more geared towards music and drinking and food features hardly at all. Still, it’s fair to say that in most Antic pubs you’ll find something good to eat, be it a slab of shepherd’s pie or bowl bouillabaisse and crusty bread.
15. The Oval Tavern
Down in Croydon is a pub called The Oval Tavern. It might be recognisable from cult comedy Peep Show, but has gained new owners since filming days. It probably still attracts mega fans, but it isn’t too obvious, because it’s in Croydon. In any case, dishes include fragrant kedgeree, a fantastic ham and mustard sandwich, and mushrooms on toast doused in cheese and ale. It’s basic stuff and perhaps not too enticing for anyone outside of Croydon. But it would be ideal for anyone who might find themselves at a loss amid delays at East Croydon train station.