Best pubs with fires in London

Updated on 19 October 2017

The Southampton Arms

The Southampton Arms

139 Highgate Road, London, NW5 1LE

The sign outside tersely states ‘Ale, Cider, Meat’ – indeed, this singular hostelry makes no bones about its priorities. Tired of chains and generic pubs-by-numbers, the owners set out to provide something more primordial when they reopened a gritty Victorian boozer in 2009. The Southampton Arms is dedicated to showcasing small UK breweries and cider-makers, and the bar staff are an informed bunch who’ll happily wax lyrical while pulling one of 18 ciders and ales on tap: from the esteemed likes of Dark Star, Redemption or Millwhites. ‘Meat’ finds its way into hearty bar snacks: maybe plump Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, or roast joint of pork ready to be sliced into baps. The look is gloriously dressed down and retro, with worn-in stools and a cosy fireplace. It’s the kind of place you could bed in for the evening with friends, not emerging until the early hours.

Pubs
The Gun

The Gun

27 Coldharbour, London, London, E14 9NS

“If the sun comes out on the terrace, there’s nowhere better”, declares a fan of The Gun and its striking riverside position. Pints have been poured at this Docklands site for 250 years (famous drinkers include both Lord Nelson and Tinie Tempah), but the boozer passed into London food history as one of Ed and Tom Martin’s first gastropubs. Now owned by Fuller’s brewery, it’s still an “amazing location” full of possibilities for lazy Sundays – try the whole roast Suffolk chicken for two. Otherwise, bangers and mash are a speciality in the bar, alongside beer-friendly snacks including devilled whitebait. The restaurant set-up is smarter, with posh dishes such as seared scallops with brown onion consommé, charred button onions, grilled leeks and white onion purée followed by roast Yorkshire pheasant with sour pear jus or cod fillet with braised fennel fondue. Beers reflect the pub’s ownership, and there’s a full roster of food-friendly wines.

Under £30
British
Gastropub
The Ivy House

The Ivy House

40 Stuart Road, London, SE15 3BE

Formerly a Truman’s pub, this 1930s Grade II-listed Peckham boozer deserves a special mention. Re-opened in autumn 2013 as the capital’s first co-operatively owned free house, it’s a re-born social hub listed under the Localism Act as an Asset of Community Value – a phenomenon we hope to see replicated elsewhere. London craft ales worth contemplating might include beers from the Brockley Brewery, Belleville of Balham, Bermondsey’s Partizan and London Fields, with foreign interest from America, the Czech Republic and Belgium. There’s a good selection of accessibly priced wines and comfort food too: choose from steak and chips, various pies with mash, peas and gravy, burgers, pizzas, nachos and so on. Otherwise, head to the pub’s formal music/function room for live jazz, French bands, stand-up comedy, jive sessions and yoga classes.

£30 - £49
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The Wrestlers Highgate

The Wrestlers Highgate

98 North Road, London, N6 4AA

Located between Highgate Village and its tube station, this characterful old-fashioned local deserves wider acclaim. Decorated in simple, woody Georgian style, the sobriety of The Wrestlers’ saturnine interior seems at odds with its raison d’être: boozing. Cosy up by the crackling, period-piece open fire with a pint of London Pride, St. Austell Tribute or one of the interesting guest brews, seasonal ales (Wychwood’s Bah Humbug in December) and imports such as Goose Island IPA or mulled Belgian spiced ale. For less than £10, Sunday roasts can be followed by classic nursery puds, while dinner might typically include mussels with chorizo in a creamy tarragon sauce, chicken chasseur, lamb shank, quality German sausages, cheeseboards and other decent pub grub backed by a fair wine list. Upbeat staff, quizzes, occasional themed nights and live sports action complete the story.

£30 - £49
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William IV Islington

William IV Islington

7 Shepherdess Walk, London, N1 7QE

All cream-panelled walls and crackling fire, this regal boozer is a world away from the bawdy bars of Shoreditch. The William IV has been under new ownership since summer 2010 – a change that has brought a decidedly more gastronomic twist to the food. The menu offers nostalgic British favourites, with well-priced dishes to suit varying appetites and times of the day. The 20- and 30something punters tuck into brunches of kippers with bubble & squeak, or smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on sourdough, snacks of potted shrimp on toast, oysters and devils on horseback, and dinners of shepherdess pie followed by lemon posset with shortbread. Polite, capable staff serve pints of Black Sheep, Timothy Taylor and Greene King IPA, & the wine list features a decent selection of Old World bottles, with some original choices.

£30 - £49
Gastropub
Three Kings of Clerkenwell

Three Kings of Clerkenwell

7 Clerkenwell Close, London, EC1R 0DY

Judging by its sign, the ‘three kings’ in question are Elvis, King Kong and Henry VIII, but this madcap little boozer is more famous for the riot of weird curios amassed by its landlord over the years: effigies of Adam and Eve, a fake rhino head, a rampant horse and a replica of a pharaoh’s sacred cat are just some of the bizarre accoutrements, along with photos and posters galore – it feels more like junk-shop Camden than Clerkenwell. The kitchen isn’t ‘gastro’, but it happily turns out nibbles such as hummus with pitta bread, spicy lamb sausages or spinach and feta filo pastry parcels. Draught ales come courtesy of Timothy Taylor, Brakspear and Woodforde’s, and there’s a stack of board games on standby if you’re feeling competitive. Music quizzes and occasional live gigs, too.

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£50 - £79
The Dove Hammersmith

The Dove Hammersmith

19 Upper Mall, London, W6 9TA

Claiming to have the smallest bar in England, and possessing an upstairs room in which poet James Thomson wrote the words to Rule, Britannia!, this 17th-century riverside jewel comes soaked in history. The Dove is perched at the edge of the Thames in a charming stretch of Hammersmith. Its low-beamed interior is surprisingly spacious, and is augmented by a much fought-after waterside terrace. Well-kept Fuller’s ales are the drinks of choice, while food consists of hearty, upmarket pub grub: potted Gressingham duck with pickles, for instance, followed by a main course of wild salmon with herb mayonnaise, then banoffee cheesecake or summer pudding. Prices are moderate and service perfectly polite, but bear in mind the pub has a strict no under-18s policy, and there’s no disabled access to the toilets.

Under £30
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The Wenlock Arms

The Wenlock Arms

26 Wenlock Road, London, London, N1 7TA

In a small victory for the small man, Hackney Council refused permission to turn this fine example of a cloth cap/real fire backstreet boozer into yet more City ‘lofts’. New brooms, in the form of the owners of The Red Lion & Sun in Highgate, have swept in and – after a bit of titivation – the glorious old girl’s future looks rosy. A Tweet sums up the prevailing attitude: ‘Yes, we have our own version of an Aperol Spritz. It’s called ale.’ Two representatives from Camden Hells and Budvar, Mac’s Gold and Windsor and Eton Republika sit alongside kegs brews from Portobello and Dark Star, various ciders, scrumpy and other lovely ambers; ironically, they even stock big-name Carlsberg, too. Food runs to pork scratchings, hot dogs and salt beef on rye with gherkins. Weekend opening until 2am and live music from a ‘cor blimey!’ ragbag of troubadours are also part of the plan.

Under £30
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The Antelope

The Antelope

76 Mitcham Road, London, SW17 9NG

Tooting residents are lucky to have such a characterful pub to call their own. The Antelope (part of the Antic chain) is a proper boozer, where customers are welcomed whether eating or drinking. Both sides of the operation hold enticements: imbibers have the likes of Aspalls cider and Purity ale on tap; diners have interesting, yet not too ambitious food from a menu where own-made rillettes and lamb stew with mash share space with Gorgonzola ravioli and hake with aïoli. For pudding, ices come from the Battersea Ice Cream Union. Prices are fair, and quirky light fittings, groovy bar stools and a peaceful garden all add to the attraction. In the best local pub tradition, there’s even a ‘games room’ where occasional comedy, poetry and film nights are held.

£30 - £49
Gastropub
Anglesea Arms Hammersmith

Anglesea Arms Hammersmith

35 Wingate Road, London, W6 0UR

One of the leading lights of the 90s’ gastropub explosion, the Anglesea Arms has a lower profile these days – although it still does good business and Hammersmith locals (plus their offspring) still seem to ‘treat it like home’. Inside, it has a pared-back, almost rustic charm with little in the way of home comforts, while an open kitchen provides much of the focus. Blackboards reveal a decent wine list with plenty by the glass and carafe, some carefully nurtured ales, seasonal oysters and unpretentious dishes such as chunky rabbit terrine, brill with mustard lentils, lamb chops with pumpkin and rosemary or pappardelle with rich beef ragù. Pheasant with parsnips and red cabbage is a seasonal call, and roast beef is an ever-popular Sunday treat. The pavement terrace is a handy retreat for smokers.

£30 - £49
Gastropub
The Rose Fulham

The Rose Fulham

1 Harwood Terrace, London, SW6 2AF

Situated just off a pub-heavy stretch of the New King’s Road, this pleasantly uncluttered little boozer more than holds its own against the local competition. Readers enjoy its ‘relaxed, bubbly and fun atmosphere’, although the place can get pretty raucous come the weekend. If the weather’s nice, bag a seat by the fountain in the charming beer garden; otherwise park yourself inside and order from a lively but ‘good value’ menu. A £20 note should easily cover a bowl of split pea soup followed by haddock and salmon fishcakes, plus a dessert (perhaps rhubarb crumble with ice cream) – so you can afford to splash out when it comes to the wallet-friendly, global wine list. As for service, ‘well-informed, friendly and enthusiastic’ staff keep things ticking along nicely.

£30 - £49
Gastropub
Jerusalem Tavern

Jerusalem Tavern

55 Britton Street, London, EC1M 5UQ

By rights, The Jerusalem Tavern should be full to bursting with camera-wielding American tourists, but this higgledy-piggledy historic pub remains proudly off the beaten track. The tourists’ loss is the local workforce’s gain; this is a boozer to be proud of. Admittedly, its olde-worlde credentials are a little deceptive: there’s been a pub by that name in the area since medieval times, but they’ve only been pulling pints in this 18th-century building since the 1990s. Suffolk brewery St Peter’s runs the show with a keen eye on quality control – their own beers (six at a time on the taps) are as fresh and well kept as you would expect. Prices are favourable, so enjoy the likes of honey porter, IPA or English lager with upper-crust pub grub including Scotch eggs and sourdough doorstep sandwiches.

Pubs
£50 - £79
The Old Coffee House

The Old Coffee House

49 Beak Street, London, London, W1F 9SF

The name refers to Georgian forerunners of today’s public houses, where subsidised coffee was sold instead of gin and porter as a previous Nanny State attempted to wean the populace off the demon drink. Fast-forward three centuries and the number of coffees sold is heavily outnumbered by the punters’ thirst for honestly priced ales and ciders on tap: try a pint from Brodies’ Leytonstone microbrewery for size – perhaps robust Polska (6.6% abv), citrusy Amarilla, Sunshine, English Best or Old Ardour from a Camra-accredited offer. The brass bedpans around the place are part of a junk-shop bonanza that also embraces stuffed animal heads, brewery mirrors, musical instruments and WWI posters – the kind of jumble that passed as cutting edge before branding stylists took over the world of pub design.

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The Grapes

The Grapes

76 Narrow Street, London, E14 8BP

With ‘not a straight floor, and hardly a straight line’ in its whole constitution (as Dickens put it in Our Mutual Friend), The Grapes has ‘olde-worlde’ charm in spades (as Dickens didn’t put it). It’s a real pleasure to introduce friends and out-of-town visitors to this diminutive and refreshingly child- and telly-free riverside boozer – a matchless, vintage ‘London’ setting for a pint (Adnams Bitter, Landlord or London Glory, say) or a glass of wine and a lunchtime sarnie.

Bar meals of devilled whitebait, curry or prawn salad are served downstairs, with classic grills and old-school seafood dishes on the menu in the petite fish restaurant upstairs (think dressed crab, potted shrimps, whole plaice and so on). One for the traditionalists.

Under £30
Pubs
British
The Pride of Spitalfields

The Pride of Spitalfields

2 Heneage Street, London, E1 5LJ

Hundreds of empty beer bottles line the walls of this unreformed East End local – a pint-sized bolthole not much bigger than a couple of wood-furnished living rooms. All sorts drop in here for the gritty, but amenable atmosphere and the very reasonably priced ales – perhaps Sharp’s Doom Bar, Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold and best-selling Fuller’s London Pride. Cider and lager fans also have plenty to be pleased about, and the food is a standard roster of pub grub with chips (plus traditional Sunday roasts) – although Brick Lane’s myriad curry houses are just a stroll away, if you fancy something different.

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The Holly Bush

The Holly Bush

22 Holly Mount, Hampsted, London, NW3 6SG

‘Please don’t attempt to drive to The Holly Bush: you’ll spend hours trying to find it’ warns one regular, and it’s true. Set in a pretty residential nook at the top of Hampstead, this is a quintessentially English pub. The building looks peachy from the outside; inside it’s snug and toasty, a warren of softly lit wood-clad rooms with pictures cluttering the walls. Fuller’s took over the place in 2010, so regular pints include London Pride, but there are also guest ales such as Butcombe Bitter. The culinary offering is just as tempting, starting with bar snacks like Scotch eggs with onion jam and leading on to fishy platters featuring tea-smoked salmon and king prawns, or bigger plates of ribeye steak béarnaise, with nursery puds ending things on a high note.

£30 - £49
Pubs
British
Ealing Park Tavern

Ealing Park Tavern

222 South Ealing Road, London, W5 4RL

A splendidly renovated old coaching inn and brewery in South Ealing, this spacious neighbourhood gastropub offers an adventurous seasonal British menu alongside an exceptional Sunday roast. We enjoyed a starter of crispy rabbit croquette with an oozing confit egg yolk, smoked eel and tarragon, along with a Dorset crab salad accompanied by brown crab mayonnaise, kohlrabi, apricots and almonds. A 45-day aged Dexter rib of beef for two made for a convivial Sunday lunch, the tender, flavoursome meat cooked perfectly pink and served with duck-fat roast potatoes, fluffy Yorkshire puddings and roasted root vegetables. A garden menu provides a choice of barbecued meats, fish and pizzas to eat in the large beer garden. To drink, there’s a laudable by-the-glass selection on the European and New World wine list, or bitters, pale ales and seasonal specials from the pub’s microbrewery. A rightly popular spot for locals and punters from further afield.


£30 - £49
Gastropub
The Commercial Herne Hill

The Commercial Herne Hill

210-212 Railton Road, London, SE24 0JT

Opposite the train station on newly pedestrianised Railton Road, this recently rebooted Mitchells & Butlers’ boozer is a local magnet of some charm. The Commercial, originally a hotel, dates back to the 1870s and features a handsome timeworn bar. Its two cluttered saloons, the lighter brighter extension and a sun-trap patio to the rear are invariably busy at peak times. Order ales from Adnams and Camden, or Kozel, a Bohemian Pilsner among a range of punchy imports. Equally popular are the dozen modestly priced wines by the glass (juicy Sangiovese, a satisfying sip), cocktails and Bulldog G&Ts. The kitchen covers everything from breakfast-time kedgeree or eggs Benedict, via salt-beef Reuben sandwiches with sauerkraut, to lunch and supper-time fail-safes such as mushroom risotto, upmarket bangers & mash, or flat-iron steak, followed by the likes of Black Forest mess. Outside, pavement tables lure yet more thirsty commuters to take a Commercial break.

£30 - £49
Gastropub
People’s Park Tavern

People’s Park Tavern

360 Victoria Park Road, London, E9 7BT

A south-facing terrace overlooking Victoria Park makes this nu-Victorian revamp of a landmark boozer a prime spot for kicking back alfresco in leafiest Hackney. South African house tipples head a list of a dozen unpretentious wines, while Hackney Brewery’s New Zealand pale ale and the pub’s own microbrews are among numerous hand-pulled pints on offer. Occasional glitches (no Worcestershire sauce for our bloody Mary, for example) aren’t exactly deal breakers when dishes such as fish pie, pork belly and black pudding with caramelised apple and garlic mash or posh honey-glazed ham with duck egg and truffled chips can be had for around a tenner. Open-mic nights, jam sessions, improvised comedy and alternative theatrical performances upstairs are further reasons to park up at this popular tavern.

£30 - £49
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The Running Horse Mayfair

The Running Horse Mayfair

50 Davies Street, London, W1K 5JE

Mayfair’s Running Horse opened its doors for the first time in the year that the future George III was born. It’s unclear what the original clientele would have made of the cocktail bar now housed on the first floor, but they’d probably have felt right at home in the boisterous atmosphere of the downstairs bar/restaurant. Squeeze into a seat at one of the tightly packed tables and order from a brief menu that’s heavy on comfort food. Decent burgers and chips (irritatingly referred to as ‘jockey’s whips’, a nod to the pub’s horse-racing theme); fish and ‘whips’; ham, egg and ‘whips’ form the cornerstone of the kitchen’s output. A daily brunch is also served up, ranging from porridge to lobster croissant or a substantial full English breakfast. Ingredients are carefully sourced and cited – and so they should be given the prices, which are aimed squarely at the Mayfair wallet.

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The Leyton Star

The Leyton Star

116 High Road, London, E15 2BX

£30 - £49
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The Chesham Arms

The Chesham Arms

15 Mehetable Road, London, E9 6DU

£30 - £49
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The Pineapple

The Pineapple

51 Leverton Street, London, NW5 2NX

Located in a Kentish Town backstreet, The Pineapple recently faced being canned. Cue articulate and persuasive patrons John Snow, Rufus Sewell and Andrew Motion, who rode to its defence and successfully petitioned to save yet another fine Victorian pub from conversion to luxury flats. Stop by for a selection of organic ciders and beers including ales from Redemption and Sharp’s, before settling in by the fire, adjourning to the conservatory or venturing into the decked garden with its smart parasols on finer days. The place has resisted full-on gastro-improvement, opting instead for a selection of Thai street food – expect to pay around £30 for two with wine. Staff are friendly souls, and there are regular sales offering anything from vintage clothing to furniture and cakes, plus Spanish and cheese evenings at a venue that prides itself as a community hub.

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Clapton Hart

Clapton Hart

231 Lower Clapton Road, London, E5 8EG

‘Welcome to the Clapton Hart, your new local’, says the chalky scrawl on the board as you leave the sprawling Lea Bridge Road roundabout and step into this grand old Victorian boozer. Launched on the site of the notorious nightclub Chimes (aka Crimes), the place still looks only halfway finished – but that’s part of the appeal. Inside, it opens out to reveal a back room set up for dining under a massive skylight, with many original features and lots of junk-shop oddities added. There’s a rotating roster of eight real ales (including London-brewed locals) and some keenly priced wines, plus a short, bargain-priced menu running from Welsh rarebit and potted shrimps (under a fiver) to tagliatelle ragù or fish and chips. Clapton’s on the up, and the Hart looks as if it’s going to be doing its bit.

Pubs
The Lady Mildmay

The Lady Mildmay

92 Mildmay Park, London, N1 4PR

£30 - £49
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The Golden Heart

The Golden Heart

110 Commercial Street, London, E1 6LZ

Landlady Sandra Esquilant’s house is an example of how many boozers looked in the inter-war years, yet it polarises opinion. For every tribute along the lines of ‘characterful, true original, diamond packed with interesting arty types deep in absorbing conversation’ (Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas are fans), you’ll find detractors who lambaste the place for its cliquey, pretentious poseurs, warm beer, slapdash service and rude staff. That said, we’ve always been made to feel welcome by the pub’s eccentric host – her theatrical outbursts simply add to the evening’s proceedings. Order a bottle of well-affordable wine or a pint of Adnams and contemplate why so many precious boozers like this have been wiped off the drinkers’ map.

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