A south east London pub tour

The annual call out to review the finalists in CAMRA South East London branch’s Pub of the Year (PotY) competition shouldn’t really come as a surprise, given that it happens every year. I reported on last year’s crawl in the August/September 2023 London Drinker but, this year, three out of the four finalists were new and so another review was called for.

The South East London branch has four areas of different sizes but which reflect the numbers of pubs in each area. Starting from central London and moving out to the suburbs they are: SE1, Lambeth & Southwark (excluding SE1), Lewisham and Greenwich. We started in SE1, to allow us to line our stomachs before drinking (responsibly…).

Just a stone’s throw from Waterloo Station, the Kings Arms in Roupell Street is a neighbourhood corner pub in a well preserved Victorian terrace. It has three small rooms and a back room Thai kitchen which is run as a separate business. The tables in the back say ‘reserved’ but if you are eating, a space is found. Understandably the staff were keen to move us on after we had cleaned our plates and paid. To wash down my pad thai there was a good choice of beers on cask in the main bars and we managed to try all of the pale ale range: Home Turf (Portobello), Ale of Kings (Sharp’s), Juicy Pale (Big Hug Brewing) and Never Say Dai’s East Coast American Pale. All very nice! I recommend this pub if you’re in the area, although it will probably be busy.

The Kings Arms

Next up was the Mayflower, operated by the Black Dog Pub Company. It is on the river in Rotherhithe Village (since when did Rotherhithe become a village?). There are a couple of different routes from the Kings Arms (C10 or 188 bus but from different stops) or you can jump on the Jubilee line at Southwark or Waterloo. We got off at Rotherhithe Station and it’s a short walk. We passed another pub but stayed focused on the objective of the crawl, although others may wish to divert. The Mayflower has an ‘olde worlde’ look about it, not surprising because it dates from 1780. There is a covered extension out the back and more outside space with nice views over the river, although the jetty has been known to flood at high tide! There’s a large food menu here and we saw tempting gastro specials on the board. We were there on a busy Saturday early evening and many folk were eating. We tried Three Acre’s Extra Pale, Kent Brewery’s Loaded American IPA, the Mayflower’s house beer Scurvy Ale (quite light, not too malty) and an Oakham Stout, Bite the Bullet. The décor is quirky, albeit a bit touristy, but the pub had a good community feel which I liked. The ladies’ toilet would however benefit from some maintenance.

The Mayflower

We headed back to the main road and took the bus (47 or 188) to Deptford’s popular Dog & Bell. There was a lively vibe in here (Saturday night) with a jazz duo and a few people dancing. This is a big pub with lots of different types of space and the outside areas were busy too. We liked the fairly priced Forest Road beers: Ride Pale Ale and Sesh (Session IPA). There’s also good Belgian beer and cider offers but, at the time we visited, no dark cask beers on, although the Guinness was selling well.

The Dog & Bell

Now, because we were enjoying ourselves too much, we lost track of closing times. Consequently, to complete our mission, we took a cab to the River Ale House. With a little more time to spare we could have easily got the 188 bus from the High Street (short walk at the other end); there is also the rail option (Deptford to Westcombe Park). We were glad however that we allowed a little more time to linger in this well-established micropub. There was a good atmosphere here, although it was noticeable on arrival that the clientele were overwhelmingly male. The River Ale House has a daily printed beer list with a description of all the beers which are on or coming soon, which is useful in helping you make your choice. I forget what we chose but they all went down well and we finished with an interesting Biscotti stout. There is also a good cider selection. There are two rooms here and, as we were flagging, we were grateful to relax in the quieter back room. Rolls were on hand so we sensibly took on more solids, having been at the beer for a while. There was also an option to order pizzas from Castellanos next door. The River Ale House had the best toilets of the night and, in my opinion, has the most accessible facilities. This was also my favourite pub on our crawl; a micropub doing what it should do: serving plenty of good beers! I was pleased to learn later that it had won both Cider Pub of the Year and overall Branch Pub of the Year. Congratulations to the River Ale House.

The River Ale House

If you have an appetite for just one more pub on your crawl of this year’s south east London branch finalists, then I would recommend you hop onto the 286 or 422 bus up the hill to Blackheath Standard, where, in just a few minutes, you can visit the very fine and family friendly Green Goddess beer café. They have a great selection of cask and keg beers as well as wines and ciders. If you have even more time to spare, from the Goddess you could then take the 53 bus to Plumstead, to visit last year’s Greenwich area PotY, the Plum Tree micropub. A great day out can be had on the buses for a fiver. Cheers!
Maria Freeman