Raising the bar: Great British pub

With a fresh approach to ingredients and dining, the Great British pub is evolving as a raft of new London venues prove

Food and Drink 4 Jan 2018

Enjoy Margaux by the glass at Clarette in Marylebone
Drinks-led dining venue Cub in Hoxton
Cocktails and opulence at The Coral Room at The Bloomsbury Hotel

The loss of a classic London pub can be cause for gloom. We’ve lost too many of late but perhaps the tide is turning. Holborn Leisure recently announced it is reviving three classic pubs – including Clerkenwell’s historic Coach and Horses and Lower Thames Street’s The Three Cranes – and have drafted Henry Harris (formerly of Racine) to oversee the menus.

While we eagerly await that development, there have been a wave of new openings in which traditional pubs have been converted to more intriguing food and drink venues. King’s Cross may have lost community pub The Carpenters Arms but, instead, has The Racketeer, a (very decent) cocktail bar and bottle shop appealing to a new generation of drinkers and shoppers.

And then there’s Clarette (44 Blandford Street, London W1; clarettelondon.com), a wine bar formerly known as The Tudor Rose. Impressively, the building and its stained-glass have scrubbed up beautifully, the relaxed atmosphere remains, and the team behind it is French food and drink royalty: Natsuko Perromat du Marais spent a decade with master chef Alain Ducasse, Thibault Pontallier is brand ambassador for Château Margaux, while Alexandra Petit is the youngest daughter of Château Margaux owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos.

As a result, Clarette is the only bar in London where you can buy Margaux by the glass. Sure, it comes at a (three figure) price, but with 50 wines by the glass (thank you, Coravin) from the French-heavy list, prices start as low as £4.50. Food meanders across Europe in influence, from charcuterie platters to burrata, braised octopus, eau de vie-cured salmon and the excellent ‘petit burgers’ topped with unctuous St Nectaire cheese. Burgers and Chateaux Margaux? That’s a fine night out in anyone’s book, surely?

Meanwhile, in the east… Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) has a way with cocktails that is much celebrated (his Dandelyan, at the Mondrian, has been named the best cocktail bar in the world), so anything he lends his name to is worth a look. He has teamed up with Doug McMaster of Silo, Brighton’s celebrated zero-waste restaurant, to open Cub (155 Hoxton St, London N1; lyancub.com). The result is a ‘drinks-led dining experience’ that is considerably less ‘Hoxton’ than it sounds. It’s eye opening in terms of ‘reappropriation’ from recycled cardboard light fittings to compressed plastic bag plates, but they certainly make good on their promise of ‘good things to eat and drink’. While snacks and drinks are possible – including a fine, admittedly small £5 martini – it’s the ever-changing £45 set menu that’s the most interesting, placing equal emphasis on both culinary and liquid elements, either separately or in well-matched pairings. In Shoreditch, Matt Whiley (Peg & Patriot and Purl) has opened zero-waste bar, Scout, on Great Eastern Street serving cocktails and bar snacks made with locally sourced ingredients. What they don’t use in drinks gets used in food and vice versa.

Further west, The Bloomsbury Hotel has revived The Coral Room (16-22 Great Russell St, London WC1; thecoralroom.co.uk) as part of a smart renovation befitting its rich history. Designed by Sir Edwin “Ned” Lutyens, it isn’t short on entries in the history books: the Queen learned to swim in the pool here, while Nobel Prize-winning writer Seamus Heaney was such a regular they’ve named the library after him.

It’s got a bar and all-day dining space with lacquered coral walls, Murano chandeliers and antique mirrors giving it a stylish speakeasy feel, echoing the area’s 1920s heyday. Cocktails are creative, there’s a strong wine list by the glass, and the food menu is short but dotted with the sort of small plates you want to eat – short rib sliders, proper Welsh rarebit, crab on toast. “Ned”, you suspect, would approve. And so, for that matter, would Seamus and Her Majesty.