79 Gipsy Hill, London SE19 1QH, www.thegreatsouthernpub.co.uk
A venerable old pub has been given the full Farrow & Ball treatment and Nick finds it has moved on nicely since his last visit
Now renamed The Great Southern Pub & Kitchen, a nod to the train station opposite, the old Gipsy Hill Tavern is no stranger to change.
It was originally a large house, when built in the 1850s in what was then a rather grand area, just down the (very steep) hill from Crystal Palace.
Then it became a hotel to service the people arriving by train and then just a pub. And not a great one either, the last time I went, ten or so years ago, there was more chance of being glassed at the bar than of getting something decent to eat.
Well that’s all changed. The place has been massively spruced up and inside it wouldn’t look out of place in Battersea. The clientele is no longer hardened middle-aged boozers, but young cheerful people with good jobs and a liking for decent pints, wines and food
The garden’s very nice, and busy on a Thursday night, but we sat inside to eat as I am paranoid about wasps. As soon I eat outside anywhere whole squadrons, alerted by some kind of wasp bush telegraph, soon arrive to sit on my plate, dance on my fork and generally drive me crazy.
The kitchen is kind of open, I am not sure that’s entirely a good idea as from where I was sitting I got to see too much bright fluorescent light and equipment and chefs. I could have moved of course, and another time I will.
The menu is short and designed around what people tend to want to eat in a pub now, ever since the Gastro Pub concept burned out. That means, of course, burgers – still the staple food of millennials despite last January’s flirtation with vegetarianism that lasted all the way up until February 1st.
Not for me though, I never eat the things. I fancied the pies. I like pies. And pizza, although I knew that without any evidence of a wood-fired pizza oven, or even a gas one, on the premises, they’d be a bit compromised.
Starters are simple, shareable. We ordered Falafel bites with vegan mayo and chilli dip and Poppin Chicken with Cajun Mayo Dip. For some reason, we ended up with Mac and Cheese Bites with Sweet Chilli Dip instead of the chicken.
The falafels were good, moist and not over-fried. The dip seemed to be only mayo though, no sign of chili in it. Personally, I like my mayo made with eggs, but this was okay actually.
The mac and cheese bites needed a stronger cheese, or more salt, or both. It was more pasta in a creamy sauce.
I checked on the chicken mistake and, yes there it seemed there had been a cluck-up, but the waitress was so nice we didn’t persist in complaining.
We had some decent sourdough with warm olive oil. The oil was very grassy and good but overly powerful; a couple of times it’s peppery bite caught the back of my throat and gave me a coughing fit. I would recommend cutting it with some balsamic vinegar. Looks nicer, too.
Who ate all the pies? Usually me. As long as it isn’t a stew masquerading as a pie merely because someone has put a puff pastry lid on it. A pie must have shortcrust pastry all the way around.
This one did, Chicken, Leek & Ham Pie and very nice too, the pastry slightly sodden with the filling, just how I like it. The mash was smooth and had a tasty burnt crustiness on the top, the gravy served separately was savoury, carrots crisp and the broccoli was broccoli. What can you say about broccoli?
We also tried a pizza, English sausage, smoked cheddar, mushroom and truffle oil on mozzarella and tomato base.
This was a generous 10 inches of base for the money and while it could have been more generous with the toppings, they worked well the sausage being pleasant change from the usual Italian toppings.
Lack of the right searing heat meant the crust was not properly bubbly and blistered and was a bit soft underneath. However, pizza fans will argue about the crusts forever, some insist the center should be almost liquid and eaten with a spoon.
Pizza by the way, unless eaten on the street or on your sofa, should always be eaten with a knife and fork. No, I am not’trolling’ that one, it’s true.
They have a good selection of organic wines and beers on tap and in bottles, some from local breweries. You can get a pizza and a pint for £10 on Tuesdays, which sounds alright.
We shared a dessert – pies and pizza are filling – Coconut and Chocolate Torte served with soya cream – and it was plenty for two.
I liked the new version of the old pub, I like seeing areas become nicer, and with pubs closing so fast, it’s good to see one buck the trend and come back.
It would have been nice to have kept the old name, but I suppose these days it might have become an issue for the’woke’; always on the alert on our behalf for any possibility of offence being given, even if none is taken.
Good affordable food, quiz nights, special offer nights, live music and sporting occasions on the telly (no thanks to that last one), the Great Southern has thought through what it’s doing and does it well.