Open Mon–Wed midday–10.30pm, Thu—Fri midday—11pm, Sat 10.30am—11pm, Sun 10.30am–9.30pm
Dimple tankard beer casks. Mahogany furniture, still sturdy, but old enough that the varnished shine has turned matte. Pub pews with high backs that trigger memories of church. These are the images that form in my mind when I think of the word “pub”. Conversely, “gastropubs”: white tablecloths, exposed brick and incongruous objects attached to the walls. Over the years, I’ve seen everything from horizontally dangling urban herb gardens to vintage life-size motorbikes.
But what about the pubs that are doing interesting things in between? It’s tempting to attach the label of gastropub to all non-traditional pubs that also have a restaurant. Technically the definition only applies to a pub that specialises in high quality food. There are now many pubs in London that are still fundamentally watering holes. But they can cook you a decent meal in a restaurant setting. They are now sufficiently large in number that they deserve a name. Pub’n’Grubs? Beer Chow Boutiques? Pint and Fodder Inns? (no prizes for guessing why I didn’t pursue a career in PR…)
We don’t give these places enough credit. They are reinventing themselves during a troubled time. The smoking ban, taxes and planning rules are taking their toll. Ten thousand pubs shut in the seven years between 2006 and 2013 alone. And yet we have all profited, I think, from the rise of the “Beer Chow Boutique”. Those pubs that look as though Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen has been let loose with the damask wallpaper and velvet drapes. And have food menus that consist of more than hotpot, supermarket sausages and breaded cod from a frozen packet.
I find these places rather delightful. Especially during a lazy weekend when I want a drink and don’t want to bother with a restaurant but still don’t want to forfeit good food. With that in mind, I headed to the freshly refurbished Duke on the Green pub in Parson’s Green for a spot of weekend grazing and a decent sized G&T.
No herb gardens stapled to the walls. But gilded antique fireplaces and Mediterranean tiles that wouldn’t look out of place at a Barcelona tapas bar. A blue and yellow bar (yes, blue and yellow). And, instead of stools there are what can only be described as poufs made from striped fabric and black leather. There is a separate dining area, although you can also eat in the main part of the pub. The advantage of the restaurant is it is much quieter, and so ideal if you are on a date. It’s pleasantly decorated with weathered tables and a mismatch of whitewashed and velveted chairs. It’s not overly prissy: the walls are a two-toned masculine blue.
As a starter I tried the dorset crab with pickled pear, lemon confit and fennel. It was the zingy and refreshing pickled pear which really stood out, complementing the subtle creamy seafood flavour of the crab. However, the salad that came with it seemed rather dry. Some sort of vinaigrette would have completed this dish.
Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of ordering a steak in a pub. It was a realm where ordering a rare steak would get you something that looked as if it had been subjected to the traumas of a pressure cooker for 12 hours. However, something about Duke on the Green told me to trust the kitchen with my request for a medium rare piece of cow. The 21 day aged Aberdeen Angus sirloin was of high quality and clearly prepared by a competent chef. It was succulent and pink in the middle, the flesh the same firmness as pressing one’s index finger into one’s thumb.
The thick cut chips were nice and crispy, cooked with precision, and the béarnaise was creamy but not too stodgy and full of the bold flavours of tarragon. Unfortunately the dessert that I wanted to try, the lemon posset with fennel shortbread, was unavailable.
I left Duke on the Green feeling like I had eaten well and enjoyed a drink in a lovely looking pub. I was both lazy and content. That’s something that a restaurant just doesn’t deliver. And so for that, even as a hard nosed foodie, I am immensely grateful for the great British invention, the pub.