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

London faces the wrong way. Paris, New York and every other great river city in the world takes inspiration and oxygen from its waterways. Our capital turns its back. Try to walk beside the Thames through the City, and you will probably be alone, passing the rump ends of warehouses and office blocks, and hurrying along dimly lit, urine-stained walkways.

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

(0181-940 6844)

The Anchor

Barcombe, East Sussex

(01273 400414)

The Boat

Redbrook, nr Monmouth, Gwent (01600 712615)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?