London's drinking holes - the hidden gems
One of the great things about London is that you’ll never discover everywhere to have a meal or a beer. By the time you’ve got anywhere near to the end of your list of places to try, another new spot has popped up or you’ve received yet more recommendations from trusted mates.
As a result, it’s sometimes easier to focus on the area of town that you live or work in. In a strange way it makes it feel a bit more manageable.
Here we look at just a few lesser-known establishments to add to your repertoire based on area. These places are tried and tested by us, but are maybe a little more off the beaten track than your go-to’s. They’ll make you look like a pro if you’re out with mates or on a date.
Southampton Arms, Kentish Town
We’ve all traversed across Hampstead Heath to take in the far reaching views over London from Parliament Hill. It’s one of the City’s most iconic viewpoints, even being immortalised in numerous film and TV productions.
Far less of us have finished this jaunt with a jar or two in the Southampton Arms and, believe us, you really should.
It’s easy to walk past this unassuming boozer with its dark blue facade and original painted sign teasing “Ale Cider Meat”. It looks by all accounts like something left over from a bygone era, and this doesn’t change as you enter, it’s all part of the charm.
Well worn floorboards lead to a reassuringly sturdy wooden bar offering a fantastic range of ever-changing draft beers and ciders, many of which are from smaller local breweries and won’t be found in your run-of-the-mill chain pub.
The food offering is by way of a heated shelf on the bar, the likes of which you are more accustomed to see containing battered cod in your local chippy. You can choose from such retro bar snacks as scotch eggs, hot pork baps and sausage rolls.
The overwhelming “feels” of nostalgia continue as you enter the garden, which you have to do in order to reach the Gents, never having been moved inside the building like almost all of its competitors. Creature comforts are over rated anyway, right?
We feel that the best time to visit is on a crisp Winter’s day. What better way to thaw out your digits after a brisk lunchtime walk than in front of the log fire in this Grade A tavern?
The prices for the area are impressive too - a pork pie is three quid and pints start at four. Up until recently they only took cash, directing you and your debit card to the nearby Londis for cashback on a pointless purchase. It might be mildly annoying in some circumstances, but a visit to the Southampton Arms is a pleasing time warp in its entirety.
The Baring, Hoxton/Angel
The Baring has recently opened in place of a previous boozer of the same name within this charming, quiet residential enclave between Hoxton, Shoreditch and Angel. However, the name is the only similarity.
Out have gone the screens showing sports, the dark decor and the Fosters tap. In its place are bright neutral walls, crisp white napkins and mid century chairs. You appreciate immediately that this is no ordinary neighbourhood pub.
The duo that have taken The Baring on have impressive CV’s, having worked at high end establishments throughout the City for decades including Kerridge’s Bar and Grill, Orasay and The Bull and Last. Unsurprising then that the food here is top shelf.
Think quail shish with pul biber and garlic yoghurt, salt marsh lamb rump and kofte with aubergine and shishito pepper and warm almond financier and whipped cream. Fancy but not fussy. Excellent ingredients lovingly put together in refined but simple surroundings, what more could you ask for?
A wide range of natural wines from independent makers? Check. A rotating selection of beers from the likes of Burning Sky and Five Points? Check. London made spirits and home made cordials? Check. Attentive but not overbearing service? Yep, you guessed it, check.
Don’t let the low key location fool you though, The Baring is gaining traction fast, so get in there before everyone else does.
Gipsy Hill Taproom, Gipsy Hill
Many of us will have never been to Gipsy Hill, never mind the Gipsy Hill Taproom. This discreet area nestles between Crystal Palace and Dulwich in leafy South East London and consists of a small high street and rows of terraced houses.
In a small industrial estate off said high street is where the Gipsy Hill Brewery can be found. It’s a name that has been around for a little while now, they were early pioneers in the London craft beer movement when they set up shop in 2013 and; unlike many others; are still independent to this day.
They now supply beer to numerous outlets including big name supermarkets, but their home is still in the original spot.
The Taproom is a vast space with loads of seating both inside and outside and a very generous beer offering. They obviously have all of their signature brews on tap as well as guest casks, in total there’s usually around twenty odd choices on draft.
Additionally, their fridges are stocked with an even wider selection. It’s a real beer drinker’s heaven.
At weekends there’s a food van or two offering ever-changing food options and regular events such as run clubs, tastings and craft markets. There’s always a friendly vibe and it feels like a pivotal part of the local community.
Kua ‘Aina, Soho
Hidden in plain sight in buzzing Carnaby Street, Hawaiian themed burger spot Kua ‘Aina has been chucking out some of the finest patties and sandwiches in the capital since 1975.
There are numerous questions here - If it’s in Carnaby Street why have I never heard of it? Is Hawaii even known for burgers?
The truth is we don’t know. However, what we do know is that the food is top notch and you must be doing something right if you’ve been doing the same thing for nearly fifty years in an area awash with rival companies trying to do the very same.
The interior is a cosy but slightly weird mish-mash of Americana, surfboards and floral lampshades with a bamboo roof and a dark basement. The servers are clad in vacation shirts. It’s meant to be a slice of Hawaii in Soho and somehow it kind of works.
The food offering is simple - burgers, sandwiches and salads that are “lava grilled”, which essentially means like a charcoal barbecue whereby the juices drip onto the coals to add flavour. There are a multitude of toppings to choose from including grilled pineapple, scooped avocado and halloumi.
Everything is cooked to perfection and, whilst the beef patties are the headliner, the chicken teriyaki sandwiches are also great. Beers from the excellent Kona brewery complete the menu.
Apparently it’s the favourite burger joint of a certain Barrack O’ Bama, in case you needed any further reason to get involved.