ILLUMINATED by the City’s glare, almost lost amid the O2 Arena, Emirates Air Line and high-reaching flats, one of London’s most historic pubs sits calmly in maritime past.
The Pilot Inn in North Greenwich was once described as the ‘heart of England’ by Samuel Pepys, and its walls for over 200 years have provided thirsty sailors with beer and delight. Needless to say many loyal subjects found the prospect of re-branding dubious – just because hanging pirates have been replaced by car parks doesn’t mean the pub too must change.
But owner Fullers has done well to retain the credentials of the place. While the outside’s been spruced up and interior overhauled, it’s not been damped. It might be described as rustic elegance, or is what John Lewis would come up with if it were to build a shabby, yet refined ship. The boutique rooms, some of which are housed in the old cottages alongside, are well presented and appealing. The views are wonderful.
But what’s a successful look if the food and drink fails to match up – and with The Pilot Inn still wholeheartedly a historic pub there was a danger of overdoing it. Thankfully head chef Sara Gibson’s done well to carve out good pub dining. A few dashes of flair and wit make for an intriguing evening.
We started with ceviche prawns, with Clementine segments, avocado mouse and spiced popcorn, and a venison Carpaccio, shoulder croquette and hazelnut and ginger dressing. The popcorn I questioned – it harked back to Sara’s time at Gaucho, but it added texture and didn’t offend. The prawns meanwhile were tender and delicious in their limey flavour, while the venison was succulent and savoury in both forms.
Following that I chose sea bass, cooked wonderfully and served on cauliflower puree, with salty and fragrant tamarind chutney accompanying dainty mushroom bhajis. My dining partner went full pub grub, opting for a burger. With the latter at the forefront of London’s dining at the moment I found it neither poor nor anything special, but with a brioche bun and chunky chips it wasn’t a letdown.
Wine-wise we went firstly with a standard Chardonnay and a far more appealing Rioja Blanco, which worked marvellously with my fish. We also tried the Rioja of the red variety and it was nice enough.
My girlfriend had dessert – a bruleed coffee and Kahlua parfait, with honeycomb biscuits and an espresso shot. It was rich, indulgent and creamy and a pleasing marriage between inn and restaurant. What’s more it served two of us unreservedly.
The Pilot Inn may have had its pirate past updated, but in doing so a warm and satisfying atmosphere has arrived, where for an evening and night you can find yourself transported to the charm of quaint old England while the torrid commute rages on.
Two eating three courses with wine will cost around £70