Smart, warm and opulent The Old Contemptibles really is pure Victoriana. And it has an interesting history to boot.
Built in the late 18th century and known as the Adelphi Wine Vaults, before becoming the Albion Hotel, the pub's current name dates back to 1953 in recognition of the achievements of a small group of men who regularly met here. The group had been members of the original infantry division of the British Expeditionary Force sent to France in the First World War whom Kaiser Wilhelm II was said to have referred to as "Sir John French's contemptible little army", which, with great irony, is what the men thenceforth called themselves.
The last of the Old Contemptibles passed away recently at the grand old age of 104. The present day has seen this pub undergo a revamp which has restored the place to its rightful Victorian glory with all the trimmings.
It’s housed within a grand brick building with bright gold signage and tall, stained glass windows. Inside it sports striking deep purple curtains, brass-fitted lampshades with tassels on, intricately carved woodwork and purple patterned wallpaper. Past the bar is a sunken area with chandeliers and a magnificent real old big fireplace with candles on the mantlepiece. There’s an elevated area at the back and an antique-looking dining area beyond that which is serenely sedate with its green carpet and wood panelling.
You’ve got quite a mixed crowd here, especially at the weekends, but at lunchtimes in the week there’s a high ratio of suits. It would be fair to say it’s in the middle-class bracket.
The Food and Drink
On draught you’ve got Guinness, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, London Pride, Leffe, Bulmers, Peroni and Strongbow plus regular and alternating ales including Adnam’s, Deuchards IPA, Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire and Old Speckled Hen. There are half of dozen whites and the same number of reds ranging from £6.95 to £11.50 a bottle and cocktails include a classic Pimm’s for £3.50. The menu comprises sandwiches and salads alongside more hearty dishes such as duck leg confit with redcurrant jus for £8.95 and sausage and mash for £5.95. A tuna nicoise salad is £6.95 and the lemon and dill cornfed chicken is £7.45. The chicken is tender and tasty and its slightly cheesy creamy sauce is perfect for dipping the fresh new potatoes it comes with — and the sprinkling of basil leaves is a nice touch.
The Last Word
A smart and cosy piece of Victorian charm that would make the original Old Contemptibles very proud indeed.