gEstablishing a pub properly is a difficult thing. Getting a pub and subsequent dining room is even more difficult. Trying to be a gastropub (thrill), is an almost impossible task. This involves balancing potential drinkers with serious diners and possibly disappointing both. Above all, a pub should be a destination for an impromptu, relaxed beer. Somewhere you can walk and, even if it’s packed, still grab a crispy pint, even if you have to get stuck between another drinker’s armpit and elbow (pre-Covid, of course) . Some serve food, some want to make it an event, and some let the food swallow it all up.
The Jolly Gardeners followed this line wonderfully, dividing the space in half, diners on one side, pint drinkers on the other, the two mingling with a friendly feeling that one could become the other and vice versa. The buzzing chatter from the pub side doesn’t overwhelm you when you’re seated – instead, it provides a cheerful backdrop for your meal.
This is the kind of ad you want down your road. It sounds like the kind of place where a BBC drama about the rotating lives of young adults could take place – the Central Perk of Vaxhall’s 30s. You could come here with your roommates for a drink after work well deserved. You can bring a first date, considering your compatibility with craft beer and small plates. You could drag visiting parents for a Sunday roast. It encapsulates everything you would expect from a good local, and the people of Vauxhall are arguably the best, especially since the area doesn’t really drown in great places to eat.
The Jolly Gardeners as a concept were conceived during the lockdown. While many other hotel establishments desperately tried to stay afloat and sometimes closed their doors permanently, these five friends were planning the potentially crazy idea of opening a pub. The perfect opportunity came in the form of The Zeitgeist, a forgotten place that had struggled for some time. Apparently, the German-influenced boozer had red walls, black ceilings, and served a constant selection of schnitzel. The Jolly Gardeners pay homage to this story with their monkfish cutlet – a take on the classic dish that sees meaty fish breaded and fried and served with edgy capers for a salty and crunchy hit, and a potato salad with herbs. . It reminds us that sometimes the classics are really the best. Wow, that was good.
I’m jumping forward a bit, because by the time the schnitzel arrived we were incredibly full after scoffing at a number of the small plates that make up the bulk of the menu. Seasonality is at play with Jolly Gardeners: the dishes change weekly, tailored to the produce they can find and the ingredients that are blooming at that time. Unsurprisingly, a few dishes have become favorites, like the aforementioned schnitzel, as well as cauliflower wings, and therefore tend to stay fairly regular.
This is, for all intents and purposes, pub food. But it’s pub food you want to eat. I hate to use the term “high” to describe something, but it fits here. The Jolly Gardeners have elevated pub food, without making it pretentious. It’s almost as if they’ve specialized; find excitement in what often ends up being standard, heavy fare. Here it is seen imagined in dishes like lamb croutons – slowly cooked lamb that is grated, crumbled and then fried – in a very meaty croquette. It’s like the English brother of Smokestak’s crispy beef cheek. The steak skewers were tender and lightly charred on the outside, set on a bed of cassava and topped with a vibrant herb chimichurri. The salicornia and green onion bhajis were crisp, just the right level of oil, and perfect when sucked with the mango chutney that came with them. Cauliflower wings are a menu staple for a reason. It’s one of those dishes that would convince even the most vegetarian of diners. Baked to a crisp – if they were darker they would be burnt, but they end up being perfect – the crunchiness of the outer layer adds a necessary chew, while the cauliflower has softened but retained its integrity, separating with each bite, how good you would expect a chicken wing to do. The cod eggs were just on the wrong side of the salty – a little less seasoning would have allowed the punchy flavor of the eggs to shine, rather than being overwhelmed.
All of this was consumed in a space reminiscent of St John’s dining room – all white walls, high ceilings and old-fashioned floors. You never knew it was dark, dreary, stein-dripping old liquor. The five friends who created the Jolly Gardeners together have over 60 years of experience in the hospitality industry, and it shows. Whether you’re heading to Vauxhall to check it out for yourself, or living at the top of the street (lucky), there really should be more of these kinds of places in London. I will be back: apparently their Sunday roast is something to write home about.
The Jolly Gardeners, 49-51 Black Prince Rd, London SE11 6AB | 020 7967 7327 | thejollygardeners.co.uk
This week’s food and drink news
I walked past Angelina in Dalston almost every day during the lockdown, and almost every time they were inside they cooked meals for people in the community who needed it. They are now opening a new Japanese-inspired kushikatsu restaurant in Soho, which will focus on the Osaka-based dried food on sticks dish (have you ever heard of something so wonderful ?!). sure the food will be great, but you should definitely go and find out for yourself to be sure.
Reservations are opening soon for what will undoubtedly be Mayfair’s new grande dame – the MAINE. Located in a lovingly restored 18th-century townhouse on Hanover Square, the enormous space will feature five bedrooms, three floors, and a hidden courtyard. One to note when you’re feeling red and craving an indulgent hour (or three).
It’s scary season! And while I’m sadly not dressing up this year, I’m going to satisfy my Halloween fantasies with the limited edition Flesh Lager and Bones Black Lager from Beavertown – yes, it really is an inky tone. . The perfect drinks to drink this weekend, hope they keep me well hydrated as I hide in the back room of my house and try to pretend I’m not if a ride or treats are presented.