Boxpark’s a quickie when Croydon needs something more meaningful

This article originally appeared in the Croydon Citizen https://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/boxpark-quickie-more-meaningful/

 

The Croydon Citizen recently published my not-entirely-complimentary review of Meat Liquor in Boxpark. As the review states, I was conscious that I was being harsher on the place than I would have been had it been a stand-alone venture somewhere else in Croydon. Away from Boxpark, I’d probably have scored it with three or four stars. I gave some thought to my reasons for this, and found myself reflecting more generally on Boxpark and what it brings to Croydon.

Before I continue, I should state that I’m a small investor in the Street Feast group. As well as a vested interest, though, this gives me some awareness of what street markets offer and the reasons that they can work so well. The key to a great street market is that its individual outlets are not meant to be considered simply in and of themselves, but as part of a wider leisure experience. So you go to Meat Liquor Croydon not just to experience Meat Liquor, but to ‘do Boxpark’: to #eatdrinkplay, as the hashtag goes. It’s all about context: grab some wings from one place, then have a beer. Wander over and have a pizza with a glass of wine. Make your own smorgasbord with your mates so that everyone gets a taste. This is how the venue gets repeat custom: people want to go back to try new things, because the venue works as a leisure venue.

And the problem for me with Croydon’s Boxpark is that I just don’t want to stay (let alone play) after wolfing down a burger, wings or whatever. Boxpark Shoreditch does make me want to hang around: it has places to just drink, which are better insulated against the cold and have a much better variety of drinks than those that are available in Croydon.

The layout of Croydon’s Boxpark is draughty. More importantly still, it doesn’t facilitate, let alone encourage, easy moving about the site, or standing and chatting with mates over a variety of drinks, as the Street Feast portfolio does. Doing so can end up as quite an expensive experience but it’s inherently social: you feel inclined to spend time. It’s rather like a night out in Soho; get some food then drink four cocktails over a few hours chatting to mates.

In Boxpark Croydon, the booze-only options are not particularly impressive in their line-up and/or are badly placed. My beloved Cronx Bar is on the outside so that it might as well be a separate boozer, and can’t be accessed from inside Boxpark at all. And don’t get me started on how it’s clearly not designed with either child or disabled access in mind. I have two active young kids and due to sports injuries I’m on crutches for a few weeks of the year. The floors are slippery, the tables too close together, the seats are uncomfortable and the doors very heavy.

There are those draughts to contend with, and the sound of a crowd bounces off all the hard surfaces, meaning that you have to shout to be heard… and that’s before the music plays, as it continuously does. It’s like being at a stadium, but a stadium without the major attraction. Palace doesn’t play here and the gigs are irregular. Boxpark therefore is not particularly well designed for me.

Maybe it will be better in the summer when outdoor drinking on the upper deck seems appealing, but the multiple delays in opening mean that I’ve only seen it on wet, dark, cold autumn and winter evenings.

If Boxpark reminds me of anything, it’s a high quality shopping mall food court of the sort you find in the US. This isn’t a standard British dining experience. There’s lots of choice, and much of the food is high quality. But it’s been plonked on the edge of a building site, which, when combined with brand attributes such as shipping containers/steel/exposed materials that are clearly designed to make it feel ‘edgy’, create the impression of a place designed as a twenty minute wolfed-down pitstop, rather than as a 21st century leisure destination.

I’m happy to admit that I’m not its target demographic, since I both live in Sutton and have been overexposed to the brand after six years of working in Shoreditch. Still, I’ve been disappointed on my four visits since it opened. I also don’t buy into the idea that it will help to create a positive reputation for Croydon as a tourist destination, due to the core nature of the product. If I travel into Croydon, it’s for meeting mates from different parts of London and the south east: finding something not available in Sutton, or because I can’t be bothered to go (back, as I’m a city boy) to zones 1 and 2. Comfort and longevity are important. If I’m investing a fair whack of cash I want to be able to hear my mates and feel like I can sit and chat for a few hours in comfort. Boxpark doesn’t tick these boxes.

If I might end with a crude analogy; Boxpark is full of outlets that offer hot, sticky, salty fun and provide a short term high. It’s fine in short, ahem, spurts, but it’s a naughty thrill that fades from the memory. I loved that sort of thing in my twenties, but now that I’ve settled down, have kids and have moved away from Croydon, I don’t need to make long journeys for a dirty food booty call.

This is probably why everyone else in the joint was ten years younger than me and having fun. Good for them.

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Vinoteca Italiana

This article first appeared in the Croydon Citizen https://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/vinoteca-italiana/

Imagine the perfect trattoria. It would be fairly run and owned, with friendly Italian staff who care about your experience. You’d start with a selection of Italian breads and a grassy olive oil with a sweet and sour vinegar to have with a first drink. The place would have great al dente pasta with rich and punchy sauces that are lick the plate tasty, if not Michelin refined. There’s a wood-fire baked pizza you can eat in or out. Also ‘British-Italian’ classics such as saltimboca, stuffed courgette flowers, and outstanding produce led dishes with an emphasis on fresh veg and seafood.

There might be an outside area and children are there to be indulged and developed as mini food lovers, a valuable and essential member of each party. All the adults in the restaurant are entirely relaxed about the kids.

The wine list would be strictly Italian. Why range internationally when you can drink a bottle of Gavi and some Barolo to add some oomph. Maybe even an earthy montepulciano to go with the best pizza you’ve ever eaten. The desserts would be great ice cream, tiramisu, cantuccini and vin santo. Great coffee would be complemented by a limoncello or, if you want hairs on your chest, a grappa that is far more refined than many you might find.

Finally there’s a lovey hum to the place. Big and small groups are equally happy. They all combine to create quite a noisy restaurant that is a very happy place to be and is busy pretty much every evening. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not describing an imaginary restaurant. I’m reviewing a place that has enriched my family’s life in the twenty odd months that we’ve lived about a ten minutes walk away.

We get takeaway pizza 45-50 weeks of the year. My wife and I go there on date nights, and we’ve been there with a group of eight. The food really is exceptional and delivers a big punch of flavour. It starts with the rustic power of a punchy, spicy, vaguely Sardinian tomato and prawn pasta dish into perfectly cooked simple fish dishes. Pearly white sea bass is simply roasted with olive oil, garlic, herbs and lemon. Then onto classic meat dishes like the yummy saltimbocca.

The specials are genuinely special and change fairly regularly. The key to this place is the combination of the quality of the food and the genuinely welcoming and unobtrusive service. The husband and wife team that runs the place is complemented by genuine Italians who are happy to chat if you would like, but will leave you space if that’s what you would like.

I think Vinoteca is better than its equivalents in Croydon’s food quarter. You can spend only £20 per person and be happy, or you can eat and drink a lot and do some damage to your bank balance if it’s a special occasion and you want to play with the wine list. I know that it’s not technically in Croydon, but it is less than ten minutes away from West Croydon station, which is about twenty metres from the Carshalton Beeches station. The 154 from West Croydon or Waddon is about twenty minutes and it stops right outside.

I can’t recommend this restaurant enough to anyone that is within thirty minutes. If there’s a hefty bearded guy sitting on his own at the bar with a glass of red, wearing a rugby shirt, reading the sports pages and waiting for a takeaway pizza, it’s probably me. Say hello! I’m friendlier than I look.

The Camberwell Arms

Sometimes you need to go back and try again.

The Camberwell Arms has become the Blewer family (Camberwell branch) HQ for birthday food and drink for about 2 years now. We’ve enjoyed probably five or more great afternoons there, but this story starts with me swearing I’d never go back.

Over the years, we did a bit of circling around, with numerous visits to the Anchor & Hope on the Cut, Pizarro in Bermondsey and Franklins in East Dulwich. All have their significant charms and have been reviewed here. However due in part to logistics (most of us live in Sutton), cost and the need to find a child friendly option, we tried the Camberwell Arms.

The first time we went, on the longish (if you have a toddler and a baby with you) walk back to Denmark Hill station I was pretty much set that I wasn’t going back, or if I did it would be adults only. Aidan & Hannah had both decided that day that they didn’t want to stay seated, didn’t really want any of the food and didn’t want to be there. The numerous adults took turns in distracting them so we could all eat but it remains my most stressful restaurant experience (apart from a night in Moscow that is best not mentioned in polite company).

We were in the secondary room with a very large party adjacent and there was a lot of coming and going, which meant the kids had to stay at the table. The large party meant the the waitress upstairs was hard to get hold of and the kitchen was under pressure and our food took a long time. Neither Kirsty or I had had much sleep for months, what with Hannah being so young and our patience was as thin as a spider’s thread. It snapped on the walk and then quite long journey home.

This has been pretty much the issue for all of the restaurants mentioned, due to where my part of the family lives (Sutton), a civilised lunch in SE1 or SE5 is pretty much in the middle of nap time. Driving sort of managed this but it meant no drink for one of us, which we’d agreed to knock on the head. Kirsty and I knew this, and knew what happened if the kids didn’t nap. No sleep for us that night.

I know all of this sounds like a spoiled middle class #firstworldproblem, but sleep deprivation is used as an interrogation. Any parents reading this will understand the challenge. You want to spend time with your family and have a nice time, but you’re so effing tired and stressed that the smallest things set you off.

Anyway, I wasn’t going back. Then it was booked again and Dad and my Uncle Mark were both really looking forward to it and I couldn’t suggest somewhere else. The best I could do was ask for as late a start as possible so that Hannah could sleep.

You’ve probably guessed now that it worked. Hannah fell asleep on the walk down from the Station. They serve passable Guinness and always have a local pale ale in hand pump. We all looked at the menus and as I now feel every time I walk in, I thought “yum”.

For many years the CA was part of the Anchor & Hope stable which had an an effective formula. Find a grotty boozer in a previously rough but now up and coming part of S London. Add a lick of paint & mismatching furniture. Decent if slightly odd wine list. The kitchen serves rustic, trencherman type food that is WAY above usual pub standards as what looks simple requires very high level sourcing and serious technique in the kitchen. All of the group were sort of hybrid pubs where you could just go for a beer but the reality is they made their names as places to eat in the shell of a former pub that retained the ambience of a London boozer without really being one.

Service is friendly and professional. These guys know their job, put you at ease and serve the food with no fuss whatsoever. They’re enthusiastic about the product without trying to be evangelists or your best mate. They’re very understanding of our needs with two small kids, for which we are always grateful.

The Camberwell Arms has recently exited the group but at the moment the style remains and I really hope this continues. Exceptional silky, porky home made charcuterie, including really lovely rich rillettes and home pickled cornichons is a statement of intent matched by the scotch bonnet and pork fat on sourdough toast. Big meaty flavour served by a kitchen at knows what it’s doing.

Starters tend to be rustically presented but actually are quite delicate at least compared to the mains. The house cured smoked salmon and crisp bead is sweet, salty, fatty and serious, with thick slices, noseclearing horseraddish and again house pickles complementing it well. Babaganouj that is the equal of anywhere I’ve had in Levant, Gulf or Maghreb is served with griddled bread that’s like a bbqued pillow. I could eat about two kilos of this stuff.

Main courses tend to be big lumps of protein cooked perfectly with a sauce that demands good staff in the kitchen. Take my most recent main. A massive roast pork chop that had a big strip of crackling. Served on wilted greens with he best roast potato / chip type spuds you can find in London and a sauce based that was romanescoish that I want to buy in pots. I’ve had a similar but lighter dish with whole roast quail.

They do bigger dishes to share; a rabbit pie sticks in my mind from the first visit as a reason to come back. Spit roasted roast chicken and trimmings to be shared by groups of 2-4 depending on the size of bird. The fish always looks perfectly cooked, because this is an excellent kitchen that wouldn’t dream of serving anything other. Pearly flakes of white meaty fish, often with a buttery accompaniment are a staple of the menu. I’m a carnivore so tend to avoid but my mum regularly leaves a Top Cat style skeleton on an empty plate.

By the time you get to desert, you’re full, but they don’t let the side down. A short list of puds that are all made on site are always tempting and tasty. Home made ice creams normally do for me, often a tart and refreshing flavour, last time it was cherry and was great. They have calvados behind the bar that is young and apple-ey and pretty fiery. It’s calva not Somerset cider brandy so there’s enough velvet to dampen the fire but it delivers the big boozy hit that you want at the end of a great meal.

That’s what we’ve had every time. A great meal. Our kids have got older and we box clever on timings which has made the whole experience easier but at the heart of things this is a brilliant local restaurant that is more gastro than pub. I’d say I wished I lived closer but actually I quite like the fact we only go a few times a year as it gives the place a sense of occasion and makes it feel special.

The Camberwell Arms deserves this because that’s what it is, special.

I’m pleased we went back.

The Guinea Grill, Mayfair

I’ve been drinking in the Guinea on and off, for over 15 years, depending on where I or clients are based. It’s a small, gloriously old fashioned Youngs boozer that has (I think) the classic picture of the Queen Mum and / or Charles pouring a pint, all the Youngs beers you’d expect and a very mixed clientele.

I’ve drunk in there with working class sth London boys made good and not so good; aristocratic ex guards officers, oil and mining types, journalists, bankers, mercenaries and spooks. Basically it’s a local boozer that services a diverse community, and does so very well, providing a discreet boot hole for a swift pint or an all day session.

The light and bitter is very good, even if I’m the only person that drinks it. Well kept Ordinary that is always perfectly clear and if I’m lucky and get one of the new staff, I can persuade them to serve me an old fashioned measure. Sorry Osh. The Guinness is probably the best in a mile or so and at lunch they have truly exceptional old fashioned pies (steak & kidney/ mushroom) and an outstanding oxtail sandwich that has shaved horseradish that is a cure for the common cold.

It’s recently been taken over by a new guvnor, an Irishman who London is fortunate enough to have received some time ago. He used to have the Ship at Wandsworth which was always a grand place in the rugby season and has enhanced the Guinea with an eye for detail and a bit of spit, polish and staff training. Most professional reviewers say he’s good at his s job, I’m not arguing.

So far, this is a review of a seemingly discreet boozer (it’s in a sort of alley of Berkeley Square) that lots of people know about. It can be heavingly busy of a Thursday evening, Friday lunch or anytime around Christmas. The difference is what’s behind the pub.

If you are a few years younger than me, you probably can’t imagine London without Hawksmoor. You could be forgiven for thinking that they introduced the idea of a top quality British steakhouse to London. Their PR has done a good job in creating this perception, especially as previous and slightly less grand competitors such as Chez Gerrard bit the dust and Gaucho pushes the Argentine brand hard. I’m not complaining, I’m a big fan and I remain very grateful to them for many good meals and drinks. Particularly drinks, they do great cocktails.

However before Hawksmoor there was The Guinea Grill. It’s a singularly old school British / Irish take on how to serve grilled and roast meat, something they do as well as anywhere in London – with the benefit of the onsite pub as well.

Due in part to the location, there’s muted wooden panels, velvet cushioned chairs, silver service, buttered & creamed veg and a wine list hefty enough to facilitate GBH on either a fellow diner or your wallet. The list itself is what you’d expect; a top quality traditional selection. I tend to continue drinking beer as I’ll be going back to work, but there’s some good stuff on it, including a longtime personal favourite, Musar, which is a slightly racy but imaginative addition, not seen as much as it should be.

One’s fellow punters are almost all chaps; very old Mayfair, to the point my chippy sarf London half Irish persona gets turned up to 10. Every time I walk in, I feel like a bit of an outsider, then I realise I’ve worked in energy and capital markets for a long time and this is a community of which I’m part.

And then the food and drink starts and all my chippyness falls away because it’s so bloody good. The happy contended hum of a small dining room sharing a very good lunch is a great thing. Even the bread and butter is an exampler of what bread and butter is meant to be. Chewey and yeasty balanced by rich cream. Yum.

I’m yet to have a starter or desert, because I can’t afford to nap after lunch; but you come here for the meat. The steak is as good as it gets. The thing with this sort of food is there’s nowhere to hide. Source great meat. Cook it on a hot grill with necessary seasoning. Trad sides such as spinach and chips or even fried eggs must not trample over the main event, but must be simple and therefore they are either perfect or not good enough. The Guinea does it right time after time. I particularly like the bearnaise, which has a nice tang to balance the richness.

There’s pretty much all cuts available, and a wider menu that has more trad grill classics such as chops, a pretty hefty looking mixed grill, beef wellington and the same pies you get in the pub.

There’s also the best private room in London which would be great for big birthday party, or as I did a few years ago, a massive blowout following completion of a testing work project.

So, in conclusion, it’s a great little boozer with a very good old school grill room behind it, run by a talented manager and team who make sure you feel welcomed.

As an online sparring partner suggested recently with (I hope) more humour than snark, “why don’t you work remotely from there paddy?”

Restaurant Review, MeatLiquor, Boxpark Croydon

This article originally appeared in the Croydon Citizen: http://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/restaurant-review-meatliquor-boxpark/ 

 

I’ve been eating at MeatLiquor since I demolished its celebrated ‘three dead hippies’ dish in a pub off Peckham Rye. I’ve been a fan of their burgers for years. I often get a dead hippie with chilli fries as a takeaway at work for our Friday blowout team lunch, and I’ve had a few great nights out in Meat Mission in Hoxditch.

You could make the argument that Meat Liquor is, along with other brands such as Hawksmoor, a genuine pioneer in bringing a fundamentally American idiom (in this case gourmet dirrrrty food, whereas Hawksmoor does upscale steak) and putting it in an acceptably British context with imagination and wit. Both have done very well in the last decade, starting in Zone 1 Central London and moving out.

I love Meat Liquor’s choice to go for a higher fat content in their top quality beef patties. The combination of high quality beef and a higher-than-what-had-been-standard fat content creates what Sam Jackson once referred to a ‘tasty burger’. They’re so juicy you need a few napkins. Bearded chaps such as me need to wash afterwards. The sides are also outstanding, particularly the chilli fries. The buffalo chicken is the sine qua non of the genus. There’s also good hoppy craft beer that complements the food and cuts through the big flavours. The cocktails aren’t my sort of thing (I’m a Martini/Manhattan/old fashioned/negroni sort of cocktail drinker) but mates who’ve had them say they’re good stuff. Want to know how good MeatLiquor is? Look how many imitations there are of the model in Central London, some of which are backed by multi million pound funds.

These are all very good reasons to go to Meat Liquor if you’re in the Croydon area, feel hungry and have £30 to spend on a tasty, but pretty swift, meal for one person including a few drinks. The food is worth four stars in itself and it’s the best burger within a mile or two.

Ready for the ‘but’? Meat Liquor (like the aforementioned Hawksmoor) is not just a burger restaurant. It’s now a brand, undergoing an (international) expansion programme. Maybe it’s because I’m a communications adviser by day (and night) but I feel that this should be taken into account when considering the overall experience there. It’s not a quirky independent joint anymore (which it really was at the start), but a business that has honed itself to appeal to a certain audience, which is one that I’m not sure I’m part of.

I was interested to read the comments of its creative brand agency Tinder & Sparks: ‘Meat Liquor doesn’t have Brand Guidelines. We like Meat Liquor. The guiding principle can be summed up in one of their many briefs to us: “Can you make this look cool?”’.

If you’ve read this blog, you’ll know that I’m not cool and have no wish to be so. I’m a thirty-seven year old who lives in Sutton and is the father of two young kids, happily married and geekily obsessive about a small number of things. This is probably not ‘cool’, or perhaps not the cool envisaged by T&S, which has created a brand designed to drive enhanced and long lasting income streams for their client from a young and affluent consumer group. They want you to feel like part of the club. Like this is your sort of place. As you’ve probably guessed, it’s not mine; at least, not anymore.

This is at the heart of my issue with Meat Liquor in Croydon. I like the way that the burgers taste and the way that the buffalo chicken stings my mouth. I just don’t want to be in the environment enough to get to it. I can’t see it purely in a Croydon context as I don’t live in Croydon any more and am not going to simply pop in. Croydon is somewhere I visit for food that’s a combination of convenient for big groups of mates, something that I can’t get in Sutton or something I can’t be bothered to go into London for.

I know the MeatLiquor brand well enough so that for me it’s just another (small) chain that’s offering a quality product to an affluent audience on a repeat basis. Think Pizza Express in the 1980s before the big expansion. Sort of exclusive in look and feel, offering a premium product but in reality available to most with a bit of disposable cash.

The travel time there for me is twenty to thirty minutes door to door, and for me, it’s not worth it, especially as it’s not somewhere to linger, either due to the afore mentioned style, or because the chairs, stools and tables are clearly designed to fit the brand aesthetic, but not my slightly oversized arse.

On its value purely as a burger joint, for me it is hamstrung by its connection to Boxpark which is massively unfriendly for young children. Meat Liquor itself is very much an adult destination. I will therefore go to the two Purley burger restaurants instead whenever my family want a quality burger.

So in conclusion, the food alone gets four stars. The experience, however, wasn’t for me.

Restaurant review: Bianco 43

This article first appeared in the Croydon Citizen: http://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/restaurant-review-bianco-43/

I lived in Croydon for over a decade and during that time, Mirch Masala on South End was a firm favourite. Great spicy grills in a no frills environment and BYO booze policy meant that I was there a lot, lateish back from the city, grabbing a quick, cheap, excellent dinner.

However, I moved back to Sutton, and Mirch Masala coincidentally moved down to Coulsdon at about the same time, leaving the restaurant vacant. Until, that is, a small chain of traditional trattoria, based around classic Italian cuisine and a wood fired oven, moved in. Croydonians should sing an Ave Maria in thanks: this is a seriously good restaurant, masquerading as a proto-chain of the Zizzi/Pizza Express format in something of a warehouse/barn type building.

Let’s start at the start. A short list of appetisers includes wonderful buttery green olives that I’d guess were something like nocellara. Better than anything that you’d get at a chain. They also have a short classically Italian cocktail list that included a very well made negroni. This made for an epic start that in Soho would have cost £20. At Bianco it was £10. As a brief aside, the negroni was very good, but where else in Croydon could you find a well-made one? Answers in the comments below would be appreciated.

For the same price as either Zizzi/Pizza Express, Bianco is a significant step up
Our party ranged widely across the menu and everything was fantastic. There was a delicate hand with the deep fryer for bone dry crispy courgette and calamari. A deep, rich, gooey melanze parmigiana was great comfort food, skilfully put together, with a confident hand on the seasoning of a brilliant tomato sauce. A selection of cured meat and a tomato/mozzarella salad showed the team source very high quality ingredients and have the guts to let them sing for themselves, adding context with lovely grassy olive oil and aged balsamic.

The mains kept up the quality. The wood-fired pizza adds heft to outstanding Neapolitan-style pizzas. A bit of char on the crust to combine with a lovely sweet tomato base and some great traditional toppings. My diavola was properly spicy but it also had real depth of flavour. The best pizza in the Cronx by a long way. For the same price as either Zizzi/Pizza Express, Bianco is a significant step up.

My wife said that her very generous portion of spicy sausage and mushroom pasta was great. Again, nowhere to hide with this. A deep rich sauce with fiery sausage and herbs. Could have been dull. At some well-known chains, or local trattoria, it would have been professionally bland. Here, it wasn’t.

Everyone else raved about their steak, chicken Milanese and lasagne. Six old mates – who due to careers, moving away and kids, don’t see as much of each other as we would like – spent less time talking than would have been expected, due to the quality of the food.
Desserts weren’t really investigated as we decided to give the all-Italian wine list some serious attention.

I’ve seen some TripAdvisor reviews suggest that the wine is expensive. I fundamentally disagree. Of course you can get a cheaper glass/bottle in a Wetherspoons (more on that later) but I actually thought that for the quality on offer, the wine was keenly priced. The Montepulciano was a great accompaniment to both meat and pizza; a classic spicy, savoury red.

Proper Italian dark roast espresso and a grappa provided a traditional end to a great meal. We walked out into the night very well fed and watered, all of us of like mind. This is a great Italian restaurant that might be part of a chain, but had the charm and quality of a neighbourhood favourite.

The variety on offer was reflected by the diverse range of parties dining in the restaurant
Bianco offers its customers either a cheap dinner out or something rather more special. You could pop in for a pizza and a beer and be out for less than £20. That will keep them in business on wet Wednesday evenings. Or you could range across the menu, drink a lot and spend twice that per head on a special occasion. This was in evidence with the range of parties in the restaurant. It was pretty diverse. Romantic couples; young and old; a few big tables. Lots of different accents. The place was rammed and I hope that they continue to be as successful.

A short postscript to this review is to note that the restaurant is next door to the Skylark. We met in there and then went back after the meal. It is a great example of how when a ‘Spoons is good, they can be very good indeed. Polite, engaged, efficient staff serve a great range of beer at an unbeatable price, served in a simple, comfortable pub. As is traditional when I’m out in Croydon, I was able to drink locally. Cronx American pale ale was a technicolor dream of hops and tropical fruit. Just the thing to finish off another great night in Croydon.

The Sun, Carshalton

I’m amazed I haven’t reviewed this place yet. I did some time ago on tripadvisor https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g658255-d3196479-r210306261-The_Sun-Carshalton_Surrey_England.html#REVIEWS but I think it’s worth updating that review and re-emphasising my admiration for a great pub.

The Sun has played an important role in my life. It’s been something of a constant in my drinking life in that it’s one of the places I grew up and learned to drink, that I still return to. Some places closed, some changed, and obviously I’ve moved around and changed a bit, but somehow I’ve managed to keep up semi regular attendance at the Sun since 1996 or so.

A few examples:
• I left the Sun at approx. 2 AM one St Pats. I had to be on a trading floor at 0730 that morning. I made it.
• At least 2 birthday drinks
• Winning money on darts then giving it back when the guy was deeply annoyed at my obviously staged improved performance.
• Constant lockins, back when lockins were “a thing”
• My first shift behind a bar
• Best rugby match I’ve ever watched on TV (Munster v Wasps Heineken Semi Final)
• Some important things that will remain private
• 2 Wedding Parties

The Sun has changed just as I have. From deeply dodgy Sth London Boozer which was a constant challenge to the Met to something of an Irish accented rugby community, back to a dodgy boozer and now what it’s been for years. Possibly the perfect example of a suburban community pub, that happens to serve great restaurant food.

The Sun remains a pub. They have a lot of beer, and it’s very well kept. There is always at least 3, normally 4 real ales on hand pump, plenty of craft on keg and in cans / bottles and all the usuals. I was mildly surprised but really happy to find the governors take their younger staff on brewery tours so they can better understand the core product. The Guinness is still excellent. The couple that owns the place are experienced in the trade and know that a pub lives or dies on the quality of its beer and welcome. They do both brilliantly. I’ve got a lot of time for Jo the manageress. One of the best publicans I’ve met.

Whilst food is clearly important to the Sun – and they do it very well, more of which later – this is not a restaurant in pub’s clothing. You can come in, grab a table and just drink and keep drinking. Because it’s a pub. They’ve kept the Victorian pub vibe and some of the wood and glass that I remember, but there’s been a fair amount of remodelling since I was a kid to make the interior more practical. It’s just one big space now with 3 separate areas that facilitates a kid friendly area for food (including board games etc), drinking only and a mix of food and drink for adults.

There’s a great outside area of patio and garden, where I believe there’s a wood fired pizza oven that we always seem to miss. It’s a very pleasant place to be through spring / summer / autumn. It’s not just for smokers but provides a different option and vibe, whether you’re eating or drinking – and it takes the pressure off the not massive interior. Make no mistake this place is popular, they need that extra space.

The food is probably the best you can get in Carshalton. Whilst there’s a lot of good pub classics, there’s clearly ability in the kitchen, which is often best shown by fairly intricate starters, such as homemade lamb koftas that have great subtle spicing with a perfect Greek salad on the side to cut the richness of the meat. Alongside the bangers and mash and exceptionally tasty burger, there’s serious restaurant food. There’s been a trend for multiple things with one animal eg roast partridge (in season) served with a conft leg that was breadcrumbed and deep fried. Kentucky Fried Partridge. One of the best things I’ve eaten in the last 5 years, including at Michelin starred places. This theme was repeated later in the year by roast pork belly / crackling with a pulled port scotch egg with runny yoke.

blewers in the sun

Blewer boys enjoying an impromptu day off and some great food

My mouth is watering at the memory of an impromptu day off with Kirsty and the kids where we went to the sun for lunch, I had the double pork dish and was VERY happy.

Finally there’s the function room. Often they’re sad corners / sheds that bring in a bit of extra income. At the Sun, it’s a very special space that has been thoughtfully designed. Funky and modern but not jarringly so, it feels like a boutique hotel’s sitting room.

Kirsty and I had our belated family wedding party there and then again for our friends. It’s a wonderful space, unique in the area. Good for 40 people for relaxed buffet, or 20 for formal it’s a very attractively designed long room, with its own balcony. The natural ambiance creates a relaxed atmosphere which is complemented by really friendly and smart staff who were a great addition to the party.

wedding sun

2 happy Blewers in the Sun’s function room

Then there’s the food. Unlike other places, you get to work with the kitchen to create what you want, not what they want to give you. We decided on a Caribbean theme as we ran off to Barbados to get married. The kitchen responded with an intelligent and subtle understanding of spicing that was big on flavour but not burn your face of jerk. Pulled pork, salt fish, spicy and mango prawns were all great. The rum punch was as good as we got in Barbados. There were kids at our party who were well catered for with a special kids menu and lots of games and toys in the room. They loved the balcony as well. Basically if you’re in the market for a private party in the Sutton / Croydon area, I can’t think of anywhere better. As I say, it was so good, we did it twice.

So to conclude:
• Attractive place
• Smart, friendly, knowledgeable staff
• If you want to drink, it’s a pub
• If you want to eat, the food is outstanding

Guess where I’m going on Saturday when a mate visits?

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