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
Saturday 27 February 1999
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)
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 2 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 3 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, The Gift, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show’s most iconic characters just met
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland