Posts Tagged With: London Bridge

After-work Pubs: Part 1

More fun at More London

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Elephant-tastic

Elephant-tastic

Everyone enjoys a cheeky pint or a flirty glass of wine after work, no? You know how it is: you get a group of you from work, you head down to your usual post-work watering hole (“the meeting room downstairs”, as my current company calls it), and you all have a natter and a couple of drinks and then head on your merry ways – unless, of course, it’s a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday night, or any other night of the working week, and things escalate and get messy, and you end up partying hard. Andrew WK HARD.

Thing is, that pub or wine bar you always head to every time someone proposes a drink? Unless you happen to work somewhere really cool and trendy, you would probably never, ever frequent your local watering hole in any other circumstances, because either a) it’s crap b) it’s where your colleagues/directors hang out c) it’s always crowded or d) it’s bloody pricey. No matter how much you avoid it otherwise, inevitably, you always find yourself there, putting up with it until that time when it’s safe to resume your life elsewhere.

BUT: what if you had a choice? What if you were able to propose another location, just to “mix things up a bit”, to “bring something new to the table”, to find somewhere else just that bit less odious etc. etc.? Well, this new series of reviews is just for you. It does not profess to be comprehensive – it is purely based on where I’ve had the chance to go to for my after-work drinks during my potted career around London. It does not profess to offer magical places of alcoholic delight – some locations are just lacking  in good choices, but we just have to shut up and put up with what we have.

So, first off, we’re going to that God-forsaken No Man’s Land: south of the river (I jest, but only because I’m a south Londoner now). More specifically, I’m talking about that stretch between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, including the More London development.

Now, my office and team were pretty small, so I did not necessarily drink with my colleagues as such, but I still arranged to meet with friends and my girlfriend at the time at some of the local establishments for a refreshing, winding down/pumping up drink. Here are some of the places I used to hit up:

Horniman at Hays

Hays Galleria, SE1 2HD, 020 7407 1991, http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/thehornimanathayslondonbridge/

Dark woods, chandeliers and ales. Sourced from Horniman at Hays website

Dark woods, chandeliers and ales. Sourced from Horniman at Hays website

This Nicholson’s pub has quite a few great things going for it: riverside location with a sizeable terrace, a rather large and characterful interior, an excellent and ever-changing range of guest ales and, previously, not bad prices. It’s great for sipping a pint of ale by the river, watching the sun set over the City, and having a natter with friends. The food’s pretty decent too, if you’re looking for something British and hearty.

Unfortunately, all of these positives do mean that the place can get horrifically busy in the immediate post-work crush. As in, elbows-out-sorry-don’t-mind-me-as-I-slip-and-slide-my-way-across-your-chest/back-and-inadvertently-fondle-you-with-my-beverage busy. Service does tend to be brisk at the bar though, seeing as they’re mainly pouring pints or glasses of wine, meaning you never have to wait too long.

On the flipside, the crowd does mean that it can be quite a lively place, good enough for getting you buzzing again after a hard day at the office. This is especially true in summer, when the crowds can comfortably spill out to the riverside and enjoy the fresh air.

Typical riverside views from the Horniman at Hays

Typical riverside views from the Horniman at Hays

I do miss being able to go to this pub more frequently. I am just about due a free pint from their discontinued loyalty card scheme – maybe I should see if I can go claim it.

VERDICT – A good place. Decent pub in a great setting. Sort yourself out with a pint of one of their guest ales, grab a table outside and enjoy the view over the Thames. Just bear in mind that everyone else is probably thinking the same thing.

The Mudlark

Montague Close, SE1 9DA, 020 7403 7364, http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/themudlarklondonbridge/

Traditional beers on offer, as the ceiling goes. Ha! Sourced from Mudlark website

Traditional beers on offer, as the ceiling goes. Ha! Sourced from Mudlark website

A mudlark is someone who goes scavenging in river mud for any items of value – which, if you strike lucky, can be quite lucrative sometimes – but you certainly won’t find any in this pub, especially not of the traditional type. It’d be a bit smelly if you did get them coming in, so it’s no big loss.

What you get instead is another Nicholson’s pub with lots of character (imparted by heavy wooden beams and pillars supporting a white-washed brick ceiling) and a decent range of guest ales. Nicholson’s seem to do pretty well on guest ales and on ensuring their pubs look like they have lots of tradition and history behind them which, as far as pubs go, is quite a good thing. You expect a pub to have some history and character, otherwise what’s the point? Especially in an area as historic as Southwark, you want something that’s reflective of the surroundings.

But enough on that. What’s it like to drink at the Mudlark? I’ve always managed to find space to sit down, no matter how busy it got – either in the rather cosy interior or in the equally cosy courtyard outside. Cosy it may have been, but it’s not cheek-by-jowl cosy, so you can still have those intimate conversations. However, it can get a bit loud inside, but not deafeningly so, allowing for you to sit/stand around with colleagues in awkward silence not because you can’t hear them but because you don’t have anything in common with them.

So what I quite enjoyed doing with friends was coming here, having a pint and then following it up with a pie. The pies at the Mudlark are pretty decent and substantial for what they are, and will give you that wonderful warming feeling that is vital for survival in these cold winter months.

Pies, pies and more pies

Pies, pies and more pies

I still pop here if I am meeting with a friend in the London Bridge area – as it’s just around the corner from the station, it’s a perfect meeting spot before heading on home to New Cross.

VERDICT – A good place. Another characterful pub set in decent environs, with a good selection of ales and food that does satisfy. Despite its small size, there always seems to be enough space to squeeze a group in, which just adds to the busy and buzzing atmosphere. And as a stopping point before the rest of the evening, it’s perfect – down your pint, and away you go through London Bridge station.

 

The Shipwrights Arms

88 Tooley Street, SE1 2TF, 020 7378 1486, http://www.shipwrightsarms.co.uk/

Just so you know what it looks like from the outside. Sourced from The Shipwrights Arms website

Just so you know what it looks like from the outside. Sourced from The Shipwrights Arms website

Now this is a pub I did not frequent as often as the Horniman or the Mudlark, even though it was closer to the office.

According to their website, the pub was built in 1884 and still maintains its original tiled murals (ahh see, there we go – the history). Another feature which they’re quite proud of, and which does distinguish it from other bars and pubs in the area, is the high-ceilinged, cavernous space inside, within which the island bar in the middle seems rather dwarfed. It makes it feel rather roomier than it actually is – the place does get busy, presumably from the More London crowd situated just across the road.

The only times I’ve been have been during summer, so standing outside on the pavement in the sunshine has been pretty alright and certainly much more preferable to staying indoors.

So what is it about the Shipwrights Arms that meant I did not go there that frequently? There was no real particular reason, but perhaps there was a first impression that was formed in a very superficial fashion: the clientele there seems to be very male-dominated. Speaking as someone who has worked in the City and now Canary Wharf, to criticise a place for being male-dominated now sounds a bit rich of me… but I guess I like places that seem to offer a wide appeal, not that there’s anything particularly about The Shipwrights Arms itself that necessarily disadvantages itself in that manner any more than the other places. And certainly, the crowd doesn’t seem intimidating whatsoever. It’s just a, you know, standard pub.

Ah well. If you do find yourself at The Shipwrights Arms, you’re not doing too badly. There are far, far worse places to find yourself for a cheeky pint after work.

VERDICT – An okay experience. It’s a standard pub that has some distinctive features. It never struck me as being the most attractive and appealing place to go to, but that hasn’t stopped me from popping in there every now and then. And that’s probably what it’s good for – an occasional change from the usual watering hole. Certainly doesn’t do any harm.

Currently listening to: Andrew WK – Party Hard

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A View to Kill For: A Chinese Soirée at Hutong

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Copyright of Hutong. Sourced from Hutong website

Cuisine: Chinese

Address: Level 33, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY

Area: London Bridge

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Tel.: 020 7478 0540

Website: http://www.aquahutong.co.uk/

Pricing: High

Good For: Views to die for, Atmospheric soirée, Feasting with friends, Place for romance, Smart-casual dining, Efficient service

I can’t quite remember the circumstances under which it happened, but at some point during my birthday drinks I was assigned the task of booking a table at Hutong for my group of friends. We were all given such tasks during a fit of merry proactivity; it was universally decided that Hutong would come first. Hardly fair for the birthday boy, I thought, considering I had just organised a killer night at Little Nan’s Bar (still riding that train).

Since this evening was my baby as well as the first event of what I guess we can now call our Dinner Club, I was a bit nervous as to whether Hutong could deliver the quality experience we were hoping for – after all, some of the reviews I’d read decried the prices charged for mediocre food, along with the ridiculous waiting time to make a reservation (I found that around about 5pm seemed to be the best time to call their reservation hotline). Additionally, if any of the other twelve Dinner Club members flaked out at the last minute, it would have left me being charged £20 per head for their absence, and I’m not sure I really am that generous.

Naturally, such mishaps would have left me feeling just a bit embarrassed, something my friends probably would have constantly reminded me of, because they’re nice like that.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment we arrived, just in time for sunset, we had a great evening. Firstly, you are most definitely paying for the setting: there are some outstanding views across the City, made more exciting by the new generation of skyscrapers rising up in the Bishopsgate/Gracechurch areas. Being up on the 33rd floor certainly offers a different perspective on how London looks – and having our own private room in the northwest corner certainly helped.

Sunset over London

Sunset over London

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

Staring down my nose at those in the City. Ha!

This enjoyment was further enhanced by the staff, who were very unobtrusive in letting us chat and mingle as we admired the views and waited for everyone to arrive – quite a nice and delicate touch.

Blazing orange over London

Blazing orange over London

Once we were all settled, it was decided that as the token ‘Chinese’ person in the group, my friend (check out her blog here, it’s rather lovely) would do the ordering for us. She was suitably helped by our waiter, who advised fairly accurately how much we would need to feed a whole table of 13 – we hit the mark of satisfied-but-not-stuffed pretty well.

And so the cavalcade of food began, each dish arriving in very quick succession, ensuring that our table – and our stomachs – was never empty.

We had quite a range of dishes – the benefits of being a large group and able to order huge amounts – that included pork dumplings (a suitable start to the night), Chinkiang pork ribs (succulent and extremely tasty), crispy de-boned lamb ribs (could not get enough of this) and Sichuan chilli chicken (these were an astonishing savoury delight), amongst many others.

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

Duck sliced at the table, as it should be

One highlight of the evening was of course Peking duck. Carved at the table, as it should be, the duck that gave its life for us tonight blessed us with superbly crispy skin and such delicious and soft fat – the least you’d expect for £58 a duck. The second serving of the duck, once we were done with the skin, was stir-fried mince with onions and spices, a wonderful thing to mix in with plain rice. We all hankered after the duck, but alas one duck just about squeezes out enough meat for 13 people. Would it have been extravagant for us to order one more? Maybe. But it would have been tasteful extravagance, I think.

Spotlight on the night's champion

Spotlight on the night’s champion

Another highlight was the signature Red Lantern – a basket full of Sichuan dried chillis, Sichuan peppercorns, and crispy-fried soft shell crab. Aesthetically, it is very eye-catching, all reds and golds mixed together very auspiciously. Gastronomically, the crab was all perfect crunchiness and flavour, and the mix of the numbing peppercorns with the fieriness of the chillis was just about right. Again, it was a tight squeeze for nearly all of us (nearly – one of us has an unfortunately fatal relationship with shellfish) to get some crab.

Auspicious golds and red

Auspicious golds and red

Well-satisfied with what we ordered, we were rather pleased that there was space for dessert: crispy red bean cake (earthy sweetness in lightly crunchy pastry sheets), sticky sesame balls (gooey and not too sweet) and the cutest sweet thing I have seen yet this year: hedgehog-inspired steamed custard buns.

Edible pygmy hedgehogs - living the dream!!

Edible pygmy hedgehogs – living the dream!!

We’d been talking earlier about having pygmy hedgehogs frolicking in my garden (a serious and mature conversation, I assure you), so to have a tray of custard buns arrayed before us, with hedgehog spikiness and little black eyes was good fun. I’m still unsure as to whether it’s pure coincidence or whether they overheard our conversation (if so, for their reaction to involve hedgehog desserts as opposed to slowly walking away is a credit to them), but it filled us with endless delight. It also gave us the opportunity to play with our food. Eeeee!

Hungry hungry hedgehog

Hungry hungry hedgehog

All in all, it was a very pleasant and leisurely evening: a perfect setting, unobtrusive but helpful service and well-presented and flavourful food – the inaugural night of our Dinner Club had been quite the enjoyable success.

St Paul's in light and shadow

St Paul’s in light and shadow

And the best part? Our wallets were spared a massive hit. Sure, you could get just as filling and delightful a meal elsewhere for cheaper, but you wouldn’t have the service, view or the setting. At about £39 per head (sans alcohol, mind), we were able to enjoy all that as well as treat ourselves to a veritable feast, with space to order more if we wanted without seeming extravagant (still could have done with another Peking duck though). It certainly pays to have lots of friends to share food and bills with – as they say, a burden shared is a burden halved.

VERDICT – A good place. Overall, a memorable and enjoyable experience. You could go for the setting alone and be satisfied, but thankfully the food and service were also up to scratch. I’ve always readily enjoyed Chinese food as a banquet for many, and I would heartily recommend that you go to Hutong for the same. Though I’m sure as a romantic setting for your significant other, it would also be very impressive, you big spender you…

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – All My Friends

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Parklife, Bermondsey-style: Caphe House

Copyright of Caphe House. Sourced from Caphe House website

Copyright of Caphe House. Sourced from Caphe House website

Cuisine: Vietnamese

Address: 114 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TX

Area: Bermondsey Street

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Tel. No.: 020 7403 3574

Website: http://www.caphehouse.com/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Lunchtime fix, Cheap and cheerful, Perfect for a summer’s days, Casual dining, Friendly conversation, Takeaway

I love to fill my lunch hour with exploratory walks, which is one of the perks of working in such a diverse city such as London. Whilst working at City Hall, on a whim, I decided to stroll down Bermondsey Street, completely unaware of what I would find down there. It was a warm summer’s day, and I desired to go sit in the park some way down the street. But what to do whilst there? Oh, what’s this? A Vietnamese café conveniently situated right across the road from it?? Happy days!

It’d been some time since I’d had Vietnamese, so I hastily barged my way in and scanned the menu hungrily: banh mi!

By now, I’m sure you must be very aware that banh mi are one of the supposed ‘trend’ foods of recent years (I say this because of the number of new places that have opened up, and the fact that I saw EAT, EAT of all places, selling their own version of banh mi…). But for the uninitiated, banh mi are essentially Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches, a wonderful culinary marriage of French baguette and Vietnamese ingredients that originated from France’s colonial rule in Indochina.

I dare not offer myself as an expert on banh mi, but I would say that Caphe House has given me some of the best banh mi that I have had in London: excellent portions of crusty bread filled with generous amounts of fillings, with a pork pâté that is a bit stronger than the other banh mi establishments, which adds to the pleasing complexity of the sandwich. I may perhaps be romanticising them and tingeing them with the fond nostalgia that surrounds my City Hall days (and perhaps linking my memories with the rather cute girl who worked there…), but hey that’s still a valid part of the dining experience, isn’t it?

I’ve also had their rice dishes, on those days when I’ve been feeling rather peckish. These are assembled from a whopping great big rice cooker and a salad bar. You do wonder about the freshness of the salad ingredients that top the rice, but when the grilled pork is as wonderfully smokey as Caphe House’s, you don’t complain! I would say that for a lunchtime offering, the rice dishes are a bit overwhelming in terms of size, but at the same time you are probably getting good value for money.

But one should not worry about the risk of a food coma session wrecking an afternoon of work! I always finished my lunches off with a cup of strong Viet caphe. Coming as it does in a sizeable cup, you are certain that you are getting a full wallop of caffeine. And just imagine all that condensed milk lurking in there as well – enough to give anyone diabetes, no doubt.

It’s been some time since I’ve been there for lunch; many other Viet banh mi places have courted my favour, and many of them I would highly recommend too – but for some reason, I am always drawn back by my memories to Caphe House…

VERDICT – Highly recommended. A firm favourite of mine on Bermondsey Street, I got to know them and they got to know me. I still maintain that it dishes up some of the best banh mi I’ve had so far in London. I only wish that I still worked in the area… I hope that they don’t miss me too much.

Currently listening to: Axewound – Cold

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