Westow House in Crystal Palace is the living embodiment of everything a pub should be. Like the glory days of the village tavern where crusty hobbits would gather for flagons of ale as it was the only building around with a roaring fire on heathenous medieval nights, Westow House is a pub for actually living in, as they were meant to be. An ale-filled extension of your home.
I first came here last year with the good intention of a quick drink to watch the rugby turning into a 10 hour marathon of board games, Guinness, couch-bound lengthy conversation and some serious soul train music. It was love at first bite of the most exquisite steak this side of an Argentinian slaughterhouse – sourced from a secret Penge butcher, non of your fancy Ginger Pig here – with triple-cooked goose-fatty chips and a side of sweet, chilli-laced razor clams.
Vast and sprawling, Westow House offers drinkers little pockets of comfort, from the bookshelf-strewn front library with its exploding 70s carpet wallpaper, a large dining area around the bar with a sports screen for Sundays, then a back-room where you’ll nestle a pint between a ping-pong table, vintage pinball machines, the Atari coffee table and raised stage which boasts the “world’s comfiest battered pub sofa”. The big screen is wheeled out for matches of significance, DJ’s play residencies at the weekend and families can come here en-masse for highbrow, delicious nosh and a 3-hour read of the papers. They have a bottled beer menu and about 6 real ales on tap at any one time, friendly staff and the sort of vibe and charming crowd that means you can never stay here for “just one drink”.
The walls are adorned with the biggest mish-mash of curios so if you’re here on an awkward first date you’ll never run out of things to talk about. Even the loo boasts design touches I would love to replicate at home.
So they recently took on a new Chef. The food here has always been excellent. Even when they cocked up my Christmas dinner booking, we opted for the standard menu and were suitably spoiled with slow-braised shin of beef and a sort of creme-brulee of foie gras. But this last Saturday it was all a bit faff and ponce. Not bad at all, just all a bit over-the-top with the foams and the plate fluff and lacking in the usual Westow yum-factor. I get that the Chef needs to make an impression. But that’s not going to happen with cucumber jelly and crab served 80’s-style in a martini glass.
I took the rabbit terrine with Apricot Espuma (it’s not even foam, it’s poncy “Spanis” foam) and aprilla cress. Terrine was chunky and well-made if a tab bland. Not sure the apricot enhanced it in any way, but mostly it was annoying to have it served without bread. Much better was the warm mackerel salad with beetroot and dandlion. The mackerel was chargrilled and smoky, the dandelion bitter against a perfectly runny egg. Nommy.
M. had the pork jowl and gratin dauphinois. The pork was incredibly tasty and soft, maybe a bit dry, but delicious all the same. Excellent dauphinois, all cream and ooze, went down a treat. I got my nashers round one of the guest ales, a rich and meaty Lambeth Walk Dark Porter by microbrewery By The Horns based near Wimbledon.
But food is a mere detail, one wobbly moment will never put me off – I predict many more happy hours whiled away in the bosom of this Earth Mother of pubs, cold pint in one hand, giant tray of oysters under my nose, Scotland beating France in the 6 nations (well, one can dream!) and sunny summer days on the sprawling terrace. There’ll be much more eating in SE19 coming soon on the blog, but if you need a place to start, make it the Westow.
|79 Westow Hill London SE19 1TX|