Low-key, comfy pub meets elegant British cuisine at this Clapham High Street gem.
When it comes to drinking dens, Clapham High Street seems to be a magnet either for pricey, highly-styled bars or dark and dank pubs. Fortunately the Royal Oak, freshly painted with a fabulous revamped menu, is both a place where you can stop for a relaxed pint in pleasant surroundings and grab a delicious, great-value bite to eat. And, it’s right on the main road, although it is somewhat unglamorously located under the rail bridge across the road from Clapham North tube station. The casual picnic tables out the front set the scene for this no-fuss venue that has a simplistic, rustic pub-style decor prettied up with dainty touches like vases of fresh lilies and a smattering of twinkling fairy lights.
There’s no better testament to a pub than a mass of happy punters and the Royal Oak is usually teeming with drinkers and diners. Even on a school night there is a steady stream of chatty customers relaxing over a pint or cheeky vino on the leather couches in front of the modern fireplace or in the cosy hideaway room out the back. It’s not a big pub so there’s a friendly, intimate atmosphere, filled with chilled-out, casually dressed locals.
There is stiff competition from restaurants and pubs in this area, but the Royal Oak’s menu offers one of the best dining options on the high street. The starters and mains are sophisticated, transcending the average pub grub you’d expect from such a relaxed boozer. Fresh, seasonal British produce is used to craft flavourful dishes like steamed English asparagus with rocket (£5) and a lightly battered, crisp and perfectly tender Cornish calamari with garlic aioli (£6). A stand-out starter is the grilled goat’s cheese and hazelnut salad (£5) – a giant, oozing mound of smooth goat’s cheese sitting atop a mound of fresh spinach leaves, strips of crisp caramelised apples and a lightly honeyed balsamic dressing.
The rich and lightly creamy smoked mackerel risotto (£7.50) smacks of flavour without being too overpowering, and is freshened with vibrant green peas that pop with flavour. The grilled Loch Duart salmon (£12) is perfectly cooked with a lightly smoked flavour – the flakes of succulent fillet melt in the mouth and are perked up by the accompanying salty capers and new potato salad. For the traditionalists, there is also good old rib-eye steak (£14), a free-range beef burger and Cornish fish and chips. The special Sunday menu is famed for its savoury breakfasts (£6.50-£7) and roasts (£8.50-£12).
The only area where this venue is slightly let down is when it comes to the pudding. There is limited choice including a cryptically named Chocolate Nemesis (£5), an apple tart and a strawberry and blueberry Romanoff (£5), which is an average, very sweet, 80s-style Cointreau dessert served with mounds of whipped cream in a wine glass. If you wanted to maintain the quality of your starter and main, you’re better off downing a deliciously strong espresso (or espresso Martini from the cocktail menu) to round off your meal.
A decent yet small wine list is available to accompany your fare, with tipples starting from a wholly reasonable £3.70 a glass or £14 a bottle. The fragrant Chilean red, Neblina Carmenere (£4.25/£16), is soft and sweet, and is a nice match for the heartier burgers and steaks on the menu. Whoever compiled the white list definitely errs on the side of deliciously crisp, light and dry whites with two Sauvignon Blancs (one Chilean, one Kiwi) and one Chenin Blanc on offer in a small list. If you prefer something more robust and golden, there is a Macon Villages available by the bottle for £22.
On tap there is Kronenbourg 1664, San Miguel, Becks Vier, Staropramen, Greene King IPA, Doom Bar, Peroni and Aspall’s cider. A tempting cocktail menu features concoctions like a Cucumber Mojito and the Very Berry Iced Tea (a delicious fruity twist on the Long Island), from £6.50.
The Last Word
It might not look like much from the outside but the Royal Oak has everything you want from your friendly local, with an above average food menu elevating it above the local norm. Definitely worth a stop.