The Fentiman Arms

by Nick Harman - Tuesday February 28, 2017 11:02 am

64 Fentiman Rd, London SW8 1LA

A pub with good food close by one of the spiritual homes of cricket. Who could fail to be bowled over?

The Kia Oval, is it named after the soft drink or the flabby car? When it did change its name and why? I really dislike the way brands take over landmarks and add their names to them. What next? The Starbucks Houses of Parliament? The Greggs London Eye?

Anyway, The Fentiman Arms is located just a full toss away from the XXX Oval and so is very popular when there’s a game on, and rightly so. A lovely old pub built in the classic style it sits as an integral part of the row of fine houses that nestle up to it. This is a discreetly wealthy area, although social housing is dotted around, and it radiates calmness and class. 

To get to the dining room you have to pass through the cheerfully busy pub and up a concealed staircase that suggests the upper rooms were originally the landlord’s and off-limits.

The room you get to is sat right next to the kitchen, not ideal I find as throughout the meal I get blasts of very soapy washing up air hitting me, blasts so strong I can taste the soap and it’s not tasty.

The room is fine though, great big windows that look down onto the street, and with an old-boy, private house clubby feel. One large gentleman though is sitting just drinking and wearing an army fatigue cap, tracky bottoms, and a tight singlet. I really don’t want to look at acres of wobbly bare flesh as I eat, just what kind of club does he think he’s in?

So I sit where I can’t see him and have a look at the menu instead. It’s all classic stuff with a hearty ironic nod to the retro-classics - prawn cocktail, chicken Kiev etc. I haven’t had a prawn cocktail since I don’t know when and so I’m keen to try and pleased to see that is a genuine prawn cocktail, and not a ‘posh’ one.

Loads of iceberg lettuce, avocado and small prawns, an authentic mimicry of the classic Heinz seafood dressing and all piled into a big glass with a lemon on the side. The only bits I don’t like are the halved cherry tomatoes, tasteless watery things, and the chunks of cucumber. They weren’t needed and I ate around them. It was quite filling even so.

P loves a properly poached egg and hers came on top of a root veg bubble and squeak with hollandaise. I hate the phrase comfort food but that’s what it was and she liked it a lot. It had good eye appeal and all the elements were right.

It was her turn to go retro next with a chicken Kiev. Now we all know the shop ones are rarely actually a real chicken breast but usually ‘recovered’ meat compressed around a garlic oil emulsion which is usually hot enough to blister paint when it spurts out. This was not that.

A proper breast, with the bone to prove it, it had just about enough garlic butter inside and the crumb coating clung on to the meat determinedly and properly. She liked the collapsed roasted pumpkin underneath as well as the butternut squash and cabbage. All good accompaniments to this classic of Anglo-European cookery. Large portions too, which came eventually to defeat her.

There was a time, a decade ago probably a bit more, when I seemed to be constantly eating calves’ liver, bacon and mash. It was the go to dish in gastro pubs, it was a bit classy without being poncey. Many a production company would seduce my art director and I over it, or we’d pretend to be seduced and then use someone else to make the commercial. Happy days.

This version is pretty good but I don’t like the presentation all that much. I like mine flat on a plate, not piled high and with the bacon inserted into the mash like the sails on a galleon. Otherwise it’s all fine without being great, the liver needed more searing on the outside and less cooking on the inside to bring it to perfection.

And so to pud, and a jam roly poly for me as I am now wallowing in nostalgia. It comes with the poly and the custard separate; at school the custard would be so far over the top of the pudding it would usually breach and flood the table. This could do with being treated the same as the suet case is thin, hard and leathery and I suspect not cooked properly. The only bad dish.

P does better with hers, a lemon sponge that she absorbs quickly with appreciative noises.

So all in all a good experience that could be fine-tuned, but bearing in mind this is primarily a pub it all works pretty well. Geronimo Pubs always know what they’re doing and what locals like, and while this one doesn’t quite hit the ball out of the park it does make the runs and score highly.

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