Writing about pubs is never easy. One newly refurbished gastropub seems to blend seamlessly into the next until your neck deep in gourmet sausages, hand-cut chips and ‘Thai’ fishcakes. So it does make for a nice change when I get to visit a pub which, though solidly hitting that gastro-bracket, has not forgotten why people actually go to pubs in the first place.
While most countries seemed to have settled for coffee houses or juice bars, those places only go so far in England, and will never be as full or fun as the pub next door. Most of my early memories are in pubs, against a backdrop of sunny afternoons and bustling beer gardens. It was particularly nice on this glowing, gusty day to walk across the moors of Blackheath to The Princess of Wales, although upon leaving we were barely able to walk.
The Princess of Wales does not hold back on its royal references, with reams of pictures of the princess hugging the walls. Beyond this, the rest of the interior is populated by wood panelled walls and regal purple leather booths. This all leads invitingly out to a light conservatory ideal for those looking to enjoy the sun without braving the realities of the English weather. My companion and I took a table by the bar and it was not long before we were sipping on two deliciously full, cold pints of Camden Hells Lager. Admittedly, though, we were being unoriginal as there were no shortage of craft ales or alternative and unheard of lagers on tap. The wine list looked inviting too, if a little too much for twelve o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.
The menu shares similarities with those of other gatstropubs, with a few tasty looking exceptions. An ox cheek and kidney pie smacked too much of old England to resist. But not before two unbelievably full plates of whitebait and salt and pepper squid found their way to our table. The plate of whitebait was impressively loaded and managed to avoid the all-too-common trap of hiding the delicious little morsels of fish under too much soggy batter. Top marks.
There was nothing even slightly miserly about the pie when it appeared either. The puff pastry lid hid an enormous amount of juicy ox cheeks and kidneys drowned in a heart-achingly rich, viscous sauce. Just the way I like it.
Considering the size of our dishes the prices were very reasonable at around £5 for the starters and £11 for the mains. The one undeniably expensive item on the menu that caught my eye was the lentil and spinach burger. Few vegetarian options are more expensive then their meatier brethren. So at £13 I can only assume that a new secret strain of spinach was used, along with lentils lovingly hand-dried by shifts of lonely monks hoping to find a meaning in those tiny grains. That said, I never tried it, so who knows.
Our desserts where decadent and tasty, despite the lack of room left to enjoy them. Again, at only around £5 for anything from salted caramel cheesecake to dark chocolate brownies, they were definitely worth the attempt.
Despite the comfortable above-average pub grub, my enduring memory of the Princess of Wales will always be a bar full of people shouting at a television as the horses tirelessly running the Grand National rounded the final bend and subsequently winning a tenner. Had I had the capacity I might have sunk my new found fortune on some more desserts, but then a couple of pints in the beer garden went down equally well. In the end, it’s not exactly the destination to prompt an ill-conceived pilgrimage to one of the more distant boroughs of London. Few pubs are. But if you’re looking for somewhere to eat, drink and be merry the next time you’re in Blackheath, I’d be surprised if you could find any better than the Princess of Wales.
1a Montpelier Row
Tel: 020 8852 5784