I’ve never had great things to say about North-West London, outside of Euston anyway, so I gave it a short re-evaluation yesterday afternoon. A fuller post to follow, but it was the Southampton Arms that made the greatest impression.
5 years ago, not long after it opened, I rated it as highly as anywhere in London, alongside the Harp, the (old) Gunmakers and the Hope. Last night I liked it even more, and can even forgive the slightly grating “Ale, Cider, Meat” strapline.
What distinguishes it for me is that it feels like a boozer, and that gets it a wider range of customer than the dining pubs that dominate further east. It’s a basic but beautiful pub, which shows off the white tiling and dark panelling without being flashy. I haven’t tries the famed snacks, but the smells and sights of the meat counter are key to the appeal.
It’s a narrow single room pub, but I’ve been able to get a seat on both visits now, despite it being consistently busy. Not playing to the ubiquitous Sunday roast crowd is key to the atmosphere. Given how often I see folk round here buying a pint on plastic, a cash-only policy is probably a bigger factor in the clientele than you might expect. Aren’t any of the cash machines working in London ?
It stocks, to my mind, some of the most reliable independent brewery beers, such as Tiny Rebel, Burning Sky and Dark Star. The former’s Morning Glory stout was a moreish stout (NBSS 4), and I also succumbed to a half of Millwhites Rioja Cask Cider, which is feeling like a bad decision this morning but was last night’s highlight. It’s not really a ticker’s pub but does have a high rotation. I’d doubt a pub of this size could support a dozen or more pumps but consistent quality proves me wrong.
My closest Northern comparison would be the Marble Arch, another attractive and bustling boozer’s pub with consistent beer, though that has a much more substantial food menu.
Still can’t forgive the dimple mugs though.