Eating and drinking, again

Saturday night, my lovely wife and I decided to go out and celebrate our two-years-and-ten-months anniversary with dinner at the Dark Horse. We got there at 7.45 (passing the BRB/Grove, which had three customers; oh dear) and asked if we could get a table. Nothing doing; all were booked, and they wouldn’t have any places until 9pm. So we decided to have a drink and wait. At 8.30 we asked if it was still on for 9; nope, we were told, we should have said we definitely wanted a table. Next vacancies at 9.30. Will we have to wait long for our food?, I asked, hungry. No, it should be out in about 15 minutes. So at 9.30 we were seated, with the warning that the kitchen was busy and food would take a little longer after all. So we ordered some wine (Miolo, a very nice Brazilian red) and our food, and we waited. I think our main course arrived at 10.30pm.

It was good; I had breast of chicken wrapped in pancetta, my wife had swordfish steak. We both had the pumpkin ravioli as starter. It was well-cooked, flavoursome. I feel that it was a little overpriced; £11 for a chicken breast with a few potatoes. But the place was full, so what do I know?

I think that the best thing about the Dark Horse, other than a good selection of drinks, is the staff. They’re attentive, professional, provide table service if not too busy, and friendly. Many congratulations to them for that. Makes a nice change from the surly, uninterested staff you get in some other places.

On a not entirely unrelated note, this afternoon we went to the Sun & Doves. I was interested to see the results of their refurbishment (pictures here), which took two days longer than planned. At first, I was underwhelmed; it didn’t seem very different at all. But after we’d finally managed to get a drink, we sat down and could then see that the bar is completely different, and looks very stylish (and I understand that many of the changes have been to help the quality of the beers on tap). There have been some changes to the seating in the food area, but the pub feels mostly the same as it did before. Which is fine.

On the way home we stopped at the Phoenix and I had a nice pint of Fruli, the fruity white beer. I think I may have drunk all of my unit allowance for the week, this weekend.

Author: Peter

Long-time resident of Camberwell, author of this blog since July 2004.

44 thoughts on “Eating and drinking, again”

  1. And so to bed. It is no wonder you and your wife design such nice websites, inspired as you are by such a spectrum of beverages. Anyway, I thought your post deserved a comment or reply or some such recognition. The Dark House is indeed a class act, staff and all, in these dark days for Camberwell and everywhere else benighted by November. I have just spent a day working in Streatham, mind you, which makes Camberwell look as sprightly and many-layered as it really is.

  2. Hang on, it’s December, isn’t it? How the dark days fold into each other. There is a big full moon over Camberwell tonight which I hope will help roll the year along and shed light on the way ahead for this chewing-gummed, pound-shopped piece of God’s Southwark.

  3. Many people are surprised that there are Brazilian wines. I believe most are 12% abv and there is a legal limit of 13%, is that right? It’s nice to think there are wines as well as mines in Brazil.

  4. Thankyou, Dagmar, for your singlehanded efforts at getting a conversation going.

    Brazil doesn’t have a great wine tradition; something to do with the quality of soil, I believe. However one region — where the Miolo comes from — has made great strides in the last few years.

    I bought a couple of bottles back the last time I went there; we bought quite an expensive one for a special occasion. Unfortunately, it got corked at some point and was revolting when we finally opened it. That’s why I was happy to see it on the Dark Horse list.

  5. I wish cachaca was more available in this country (the Brazilian liquor made from sugarcane juice). Yum yum.

  6. You can find cachaca surprisingly easily here; I’ve seen it in quite a few off-licences. One on Peckham Rye, near the station, springs to mind. And, of course, I usually have a bottle or two at home to make caipirinhas, instead of paying £5 for it in a bar. £5! It’s a dash of cachaca, sugar, ice and lemon. £5!

  7. It’s not a dash of cachaca in Brazil, I reckon it’s about a quarter of a bottle per drink and Peter, you must know it’s lime not lemon. Pirassununga 51, which is pretty common over here, is less than £1 a bottle in Brazil (might explain why there’s so much in a caipirinha), i’ve always found it pretty easy to come by in London.

    Plans for a new development opposite Ruskin Park:

  8. No mention of Camberwell at all in the sales details — I suppose they think that Denmark Hill sounds classier

  9. cachaca: the only place I’ve found it is at Gerry’s, 74 Old Compton Street, and I searched high and low. They have three or four different brands there.

    new development: dodgy scarf.

  10. @Joe: I could claim this was a language mixup, as lime and lemon are the same word in Portuguese (although, they don’t really have lemons); in fact, I just typed it without thinking. And yes, cachaca is used plentifully in Brazil for caipirinha, but here you generally get a regular measure. For a fiver.

    @Eva: Like Joe, I’ve found it to be fairly common here; as I said, in Peckham for example. I think they have Pitu. Lots of pubs use Velho Barreiro, and some use the chic new brand, Sagatiba — like the Sun & Doves, I think. I have a bottle of 51 at home, and two more bottles from regional breweries.

  11. I really like the Dark and have had drinks and dinner there many times since it opened. The last time I was there my boyfriend and I had dinner on a Saturday but it was only half full then so maybe that Time Out review has done wonders for its reputation. Can’t say that the changes at the Castle are an improvement though. They don’t have the same DJs (Ronan Keating was being played there recently…) and the menu is different with some unusual-sounding dishes. Bring back the Castle beef burger with that amazing chilli relish!

  12. And might i add what is going on with the decor?? First they paint the outside yellow, then there is the inexplicable addition of soem nastly looking fake trees in the window and last time i looked in the window the typed menu sheets had been put in some horrible folders that wouldn’t look out of place in an Angus Steakhouse circa 1974

  13. I thought the DJ in the Castle when I was there recently played a pretty good set, and I really liked the mussels. Not sure decorative changes are an improvement though.

    @Lisa: I couldn’t agree more £250k for a 1 bed flat! Although if it does have a double fronted ‘haberdashers’ it may be worth it.

  14. My wee grumble with the Castle is all the yellow paint spilt on the pavement outside. Sloppy — they should have cleaned it up.

    I wish them all the best generally. It must be hard to inherit a place that’s doing very well and make your own mark on it without upsetting things.

  15. Ahem. Eva: ‘inherit’ is not the right term. They bought the Castle and, one hopes, knew/know where they were/are going with it.

  16. The food in the Castle is terrible since it has been taken over. Don’t even bother going there for a Sunday roast. All very disapointing.
    If you need a cachaca fix, try the caipirinhas in the Dark Horse.

  17. I noticed passing the Castle the other day that they had the huge screen down playing whatever crap was on the cable channel it was on.

    Pointless ‘visuals’ like that always get on my tits in pubs, as everyone just ends up staring at them, mesmerised like neanderthals by fire (I include myself in this statement btw).

    I ate there a couple of weeks ago, and while not bad, it was nothing exceptional.

    I do wish them all the luck in the world, but they’re not doing anything new with what is quite a grand space, apart from painting the frontage pus-yellow, and don’t seem to have many new ideas for it, other than keeping the furnishings and trying to coax the same Guardian reading types back through the doors. There doesn’t seem to be much ambition there.

    I thought the Castle was alright as it was before, but it always felt like it lacked passion to me, which is why I infer the owner upped stix for pastures greener (though you can’t blame someone for wanting a bit more of the green stuff).

    On the other hand, there were people dancing beneath the footy highlights as I passed ten minutes ago, so what do I know.

  18. Okay, let me phrase it another way. It looks like the Castle is getting crapper. I don’t want it to because I like going there — it’s right next to my house. So, I’m giving the new owner/s the benefit of the doubt, despite the evidence so far, in case it helps. They didn’t inherit it they bought it, but probably at a price that reflected the fact that it was bought as a profitable enterprise, so there’s the potential there to really loose loads of money by fiddling with it. If it’s a chain or conglomerate then I don’t care about them loosing money, because its small fry to them, just about the loss of a good pub. If its a small business person who bought it then lack of vision/direction leading to loss of clientele leading to loss of revenue leading to closure and bankrupcy is very sad. Maybe this talk contributes? I’m small fry myself so worry about people screwing up and loosing money. Having said all that, I really don’t go to the Castle often enough or part with enough of my money to get angry if things are so wrong.

    But I’m getting carried away and jumping the gun here, all they’ve done so far is choose some dodgy colours and remove some favourites from the menu … Maybe it’s the paint on the pavement, it irritates me every time I walk over it — it is wearing off now though and if you didn’t already notice it you might walk there next time and think I’m mad to have made such a fuss.

  19. I too will mourn the loss of the fillet steakburger with aged cheddar and chilli relish @ The Castle — it was sublime.

    I haven’t been to the Castle since the takeover but am a little worried by what I’m hearing — by the sounds of things I may have to defect to the Dark Horse permanently.

    I MUST try the Sun and Doves too, the problem is it’s waaaaay away from where I live, on the borders of Camberwell and Peckham, I tend to stick to Camberwell town centre for convenience and a shorter walk home (lazy me).

  20. Amanda, not sure exactly whereabouts you live, but I’m on the Peckham border as well. A walk to the S&D is about 20 minutes for me, past Denmark Hill and cutting through the hospital grounds. It’s probably less than 5 minutes more than going to the centre for me.

  21. well, that new development opposite ruskin park is certainly going to affect the view from the little horizontal windows the old new flats there have. they’ll now be looking out onto a brick wall of the neighbouring flats…

  22. @Ruskin View

    I love the “haberdashers” touch (as if, in this society with a fetish for £1 t‑shirts and £2 jeans).

    Can’t help thinking it will be a Subway notwithstanding the one in Camberwell, and a newsagents or dry cleaners. Shall we take bets?

  23. Lulu’s boyfriend here.
    If it aint broke, don’t try and fix it. I’m surprised they didn’t retain the chef in The Castle. A handful of decent-ish meals is all he did, and it was all he needed to do. Not 87 different options in a plastic folder. I, too, am mourning the fantastic burger with chilli relish. So the exciting search for a replacement has begun. The Sun & Dove’s is a good pub, but their burger effort wasn’t up to much. When I do find a tasty burger, you will all be the first to know. I commented on the Castle’s paint job before, so I’ll let that lie. Best of luck to the new owners though. I heard a whisper of a jazz bar being opened in the basement, which would be nice. Do try the Dark Horse if you havn’t yet. The food is a cut above and it deserves to be a success.

  24. So the Phoenix now does Frulli again? On tap?

    I spoke with Winston, the new owner of the Castle, last week. He said they were going to replace Blanc on tap with Hoegaarden. So, after about 2 years, looks like we will be looking for a new local again.

    Maybe the pub near Butterfly Walk. They do Blanc on tap — fussy lot we are, I know!

  25. Surprised by the burger comment. My only beef with our burger is the bun. We worked with the Franconian Sausage Company to get their burgers right — blind tastings of various combinations of ingredients, we settled on what we have now. I’m not happy with our bread and we’re trying new bakers. We need a really good bun. We had really good buns for about a year but it meant my going to collect them from the bakery — the Old Post Office — the effort and EnErGy expenditure were not worth it

  26. Tell ya what, Mark — perhaps it was just an off night. So in the interests of fairness, I promise we’ll give your burger another go in the big beefburger shoot-out.

  27. If you’re a burger fan, you might want to think about Bar Story in Peckham; one night of the week, can’t remember if it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, they do 2‑for‑1 burgers. At least, they did when I last went a few months ago.

  28. I for one like the S&D burger. Top marks. Also I like the burger that’s on offer at the Old Dispensary, though it is a mammoth undertaking and has bested many that stepped up to the mark.

    As for demanding Kronenbourg Blanc… WHY?? I can’t fathom it. It’s a banana tasting bier blanche designed for the brit market. Belgians wouldn’t touch the stuff!

  29. Ewookie, I agree. I first tried Kronenbourg Blanc as I am a real fan of Hoegaarden and thought I should give the the new white beer on the block a try, but it is truly disgusting – banana flavours and beer don’t mix for me.

  30. I’m not a fan of Kronenbourg Blanc, but banana flavours can compliment a beer if used subtly; the Meantime Wheat Grand Cru has a hint of banana, and it’s delicious.

  31. I find that a good ciabatta roll works best with my home made burgers — but realise that many like the American Style Commercial White Flour with E numbers bap…

  32. Mmm, My Saturday morning treat is a bacon sandwich ‘deluxe’ with a ciabatta roll (when I can be arsed schlepping to Somerfield for one).

    I remember going into the Joiners and they were having a ‘sale’ on Kronenburg Blanc (presumably cause they had loads lying around). I ordered a pint, and the guy who works behind the bar and looks a bit like Dan Ashcroft from ‘Nathan Barley’ proceeded to take the piss out of me for drinking it.

  33. We’re all victims of the large brewing / marketing companies and the relationship with the large freeholders (mine Scottich & Newcastle Pub Enterprises)

    I would stock different beers if could but the ‘tie’ is legally binding and I have to seel beer from S&NPE’s range. Which is limited to what you see at S&D.

    KRonenbourg Blanc. I have no doubt it’s a marketing invention but have seen and drunk it in Paris and didn’t notice the banana overtures.

    I have not been able to try it at the S&D because following expert installation by the brewery the tap didn’t work. Beer froze somewhere in the secondary cooler. Fixed yesterday will sip today and report back on bananas.

    Large amount of snagging to do.

    Still to put in booth seating and stage with built in pa system and lights, dj stuff and ART on the walls.

  34. Great Mark — so does that mean that you will have Blanc on tap at the S & D ? In which case, you might soon have 5 more regulars.

  35. Yup KR Blanc is on tap now. Forgot to try it — too busy drilling through stainless steel fitting speedrails.

    Hope to see you soon!

  36. Also I believe that San Miguel is now brewed by Scottish and Newcastle in the U.K…I recommend getting Estrella Galicia Especial on import if you can Mark…It’s a lot more refreshing than San Miguel

  37. Last night my taste buds blossomed! We ambled along to our local, Funky Munky in Artichoke Place for a late nosh. Andy the chef was more than willing to rustle up a large plate of nachos for the nearest and dearest, and for me, the most succulent beef burger I have ever tasted. It was one of the best evenings spent for ages! Go there, try for yourself,you wont be dissapointed. Luvly jubbly, xx

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