The Gastro-pub phenomenon

James Lawrence reviews The Jolly Gardeners

Pubs in the UK have evolved quite a bit from their original incarnation as (largely) males only affairs, today they come in all variety of guises from local boozers, to snug country inns and trendy city bars. The whole concept of a local pub has been turned on its head over the past twenty years, not least in terms of the food offering. Suddenly ploughman’s and lasagne and chips wasn’t enough, facing falling numbers and closing doors pubs had to up their ante in the food department.

Typical gastro-pub

The gastro-pub phenomenon, and the idea that pubs should have an extensive food offering and function more like restaurants was first seen in London, in the early 1990s. Two investors, David Eyre and Michael Belben took over a pub in Clerkenwell and promptly reinvented the place as both a lively night spot and den of great British food. The concept and term soon massively caught on; today every city worth its salt has a smattering of gastro-pubs, while London has hundreds. Even the hard to please Michelin team noticed the importance of gastro-pubs in the UK, awarding the Hand & Flowers two stars.

The Jolly Gardeners is one such venue that deserves a healthy and long life ahead. It probably isn’t going to win massive awards or gain a Michelin star, but then who cares? It offers a warm welcome, lovely comfort food and a lively atmosphere. Indeed, the Jolly Gardeners is a pub for every occasion: brunch with friends, a quiet drink, a long lunch, special dinner or a great night out!

Jolly Gardeners
Jolly Gardeners

My first visit was one wet and windy Friday evening in February this year, where I was quickly greeted by the charming manager, who promptly served us some craft ales while we perused the menu. Craft beer is something the Jolly Gardeners excels at, offering a good range, including Meantime Pale Ale, Brooklyn Lager and an assortment of other weird and wonderful choices.

The pub boasts a range of menus, including a brunch, daily menu and a Sunday lunch selection. The evening menu plays it safe and offends no one, unashamedly British, unfussy and delicious – so comfort grub at its finest then. You might encounter parsnip and honey soup, pork and chorizo burger or perhaps Ashdale ox cheek & Kidney pie with seasonal vegetables and, of course, fluffy mash. We plumped for soup and pan-friend Chorizo with Foccacia to start, followed by the dangerously unhealthy burger and slow cooked BBQ beef ribs with fries.

Delicious burger
Delicious burger

The food was all uniformly excellent, again, nothing spellbinding but that’s not what I look for from a gastro-pub. I want to be nourished, satisfied, not spend a fortune (prices are reasonable) and simply have fun. For the atmosphere at the Joly Gardeners is exceedingly agreeable: buzzy without being overbearing and raucous. The service impresses too, friendly, fluid and chatty; making you instantly feel at ease.

But what of the wine at this unpretentious space? Short, sensibly priced and caters to the popular crowd with Sauvignon Blancs and Merlots by the glass – once again, the Jolly Gardeners shows it knows its audience.

Too full for dessert, we nonetheless finished off with a few more beers at the bar area. Before leaving, our waiter came over to check we had enjoyed our meal, and shook our hands. A too often forgotten gesture that really meant a lot and, more importantly, has made me a Jolly Gardeners convert for life.

If only more gastro-pubs could follow the standards of this place!

More information:

The Jolly Gardeners

61-63 Lacy Road, London, SW15 1NT

0208 789 2539

James Lawrence

James Lawrence is a self confessed wine obsessive, passionate about discovering and promoting the lesser known wines and wine regions of the world. He is a frequent contributor to decanter.com and runs an interactive, community led wine forum, thewineremedy.com In 2004, he went to study in Bilbao, Northern Spain. Luckily for him, the famous wine region of Rioja was just over an hour away by car. He began to spend a great deal of time there, visiting the wineries in Rioja and speaking to local wine makers. Their passion for the subject and their pride in the wines was infectious. He began to realise what an amazing subject wine is and how wide and complex the world of wine could be. Subsequently James moved into wine retail while finishing his degree, and was hooked. James also enjoys food and travel writing - he lives for Italian and Thai cuisine!

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