Restaurants: Fit for public consumption
The City reaches of the Thames are less than salubrious, but its characterful old pubs are a rich reward, says Cole Moreton
Yet such expeditions reveal hidden treasures, among them the marvellous old pubs of Limehouse. Eating and drinking there, where ships from all over the world used to dock, makes every London pub without water seem claustrophobic.
The Prospect of Whitby calls itself the oldest public house in the world, and is sometimes spoiled by coach parties as a result. Further on, the Barley Mow, by Limehouse Basin, is a wonderful place to sit and drink in summer, watching pleasure-cruisers approach along a sweeping curve in the river. Trouble is, the food's not very good, and it's just another chain pub inside. For a meal, The Grapes, in Narrow Street, is unbeatable.
Charles Dickens drank in what was then the Bunch of Grapes, and used it as inspiration for the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, the pub at the start of Our Mutual Friend. Boatmen no longer make a living by dragging bodies from the river as they did in 1864, and you can't buy pints of Purl, Flip or Dog's Nose here any more, but the dark wooden walls still resemble the "gnarled and riven" panels described in the book.
Dickens mentioned "a crazy wooden verandah impending over the water", and there's still a scrum for a place on the tiny balcony at the Grapes. Competition is also strong for a seat in the restaurant upstairs, which serves the best of Billingsgate fish market every day. The bar food, by the same chef, is just as good, though you need to be hungry - my friend's salmon fishcake was bigger than a Whopper. Not bad for pounds 5.75.
I seized the rare chance to eat by the book: "hot sausages and mashed potato", as served to Lizzie Hexam; and mine for just pounds 4.95. Four thick pork sausages fenced in four scoops of mash, with onion gravy poured over the top. "Bread and butter" turned out to be half a loaf.
We sat by the fireplace at the back of the pub, with the landlord's Alsatian asleep at our feet and pints of Adnam's Suffolk ale on the table. Dickens called it "a bar to soften the human heart", and you really shouldn't argue with the greats.
The Grapes, 76 Narrow Street, London E14 (0171-987 4396)
The White Cross
Water Lane, Richmond
Barcombe, East Sussex
Redbrook, nr Monmouth, Gwent (01600 712615)
Arts & Ents blogs
Owen Howells is a DJ/producer who grew up in Australia but was born in the UK. He came back to the U...
Fancy seeing a play about serial killers? How about inviting a funeral director into your home for a...
There are a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refl...
Coronation Street triumphs over EastEnders at British Soap Awards 2013
The Freemasons' Code: Dan Brown reveals the message that told him the door to the lodge is open
Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
Film review: The Hangover Part III (15)
- 1 Pope Francis: Being an atheist is alright as long as you do good
- 2 Man and woman arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder victim of Woolwich machete attack, named as Drummer Lee Rigby
- 3 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 4 Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.