Lewisham has a reputation as just an average south London suburb. Yet it has produced highly individual people – TV presenter Louise Redknapp, Hollywood A-lister Jude Law, and, most bizarre of all, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Since becoming owners in 2011, pub group Antic London has been making efforts to create individual characteristics for this Lewisham hostelry. It’s offering distinctive real ale and craft beer, chef-prepared meals and an array of activities.
The pub is an unmissable feature of Lewisham High Street with an imposing rural Regency appearance. Although built only in 1934, it has been listed for architectural interest by Lewisham Council. It has a frontage of glazed tiling and London brick in reddish-brown and a particularly notable high-pitched black brick roof. The cavernous interior adopts a similar rural style. There’s an abundance of beech-hued wood in floorboards, panelling and a curved and handsome bar. The furnishings are intended to be a shabby cottage chic with tables, sofas, prints and vintage photos, but the actual items are unfortunately distressed and dull. One recalls the words of Sid Vicious: “I’m not chic, I could never be chic.” Even the paved outside area at the rear has a cracked cement base and shabby tables.
Until 2011 the pub was called the Coach and Horses and in latter years operated as Hot Shots, a sports, karaoke and keg bar. Antic London stepped in to reinvent things. One of the Ravensbourne Arms’ best aspects is the friendly and efficient service provided by the predominantly young and female staff. They help attract the many Goldsmiths College students and staff who live or lodge in the area. Another source of custom comes from staff of University Hospital Lewisham, directly opposite. And some of the old regulars have returned also, muttering that they couldn’t abide the hectic hullabaloo of Hot Shots. There’s entertainment in the form of bar billiards, table football, darts and a treasured retro games machine. A popular Wednesday quiz includes cash prizes and Sunday evenings feature live music – there is a changing programme of rock, country, jazz and easy listening and monthly open mic attracts precocious performers along with their fanbase.
The open kitchen allows patrons to see two fulltime chefs working away on a limited but carefully prepared menu that distinctively adopts fusion techniques. Of the starters, a crayfish cocktail has a creamy American creole dressing that practically takes diners to Louisiana, and the merguez sausages have an authentic Maghreb taste with falafel, harissa sauce and mint yoghurt. Mains include a seared swordfish that has the charred smokiness of a South African braai. One of the daily specials is a lamb tagine, which has a fleshy texture and a herby, spicy couscous that tastes genuinely Moroccan in character. Other mains include pork belly, beef burger, and sausages with garlic mash. Vegetarian options are mushroom, chickpea and goat’s cheese burger and gnocchi worthy of an Italian table, with wild rocket pesto, artichoke hearts, piquillo peppers and parmesan.
Desserts list a Baileys and white chocolate cheesecake that is calorie-laden and there are excellent in-house ice creams and sorbets. Sundays are devoted to roast dishes with chicken, lamb, pork and beef all available. Starters include Welsh rarebit and Caesar salad and the desserts include dark chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake.
As expected with an Antic London pub, real ale is promoted and five handpulls are happily in constant use. Emerging micros are favoured and mention must be made of Lewisham’s first brewery for decades, Brockley Brewery. Opened only in March, it has already won praise for a tart, refreshing golden and a citric, hop-infused pale ale. There’s a rotation of ales to encourage interest and other breweries include Dancing Duck, Tiny Rebel and WharfeBank – all three are provincial producers established since 2010, selling beers more than worthy of the capital.
Craft beer is also well-stocked to meet the growing demand and those on keg include Greenwich’s Meantime Pilsner, California’s Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Belgium’s Fruli Strawberry draught. There’s always an artisan cider also, such as Thundering Molly. Bottled beers are well-chosen, including two from Hackney’s acclaimed Beavertown – Smog Rocket and 8-Ball. Kernel represents south London and there are distinctive products from Belgium’s Huyghe and Maryland’s award-winning Flying Dog. Pricing is reasonable - £3.60 for cask and £5.50 for craft pint.
The wine list is short-ish but select. Among the whites is a Gruner Veltliner from Austria – not often found in pubs – and the reds feature a classic Lussac Saint Emilion from Bordeaux. House wines are Spanish Abilius white and red – on offer at £2.40 for a 125cl. There’s the usual range of spirits and liqueurs; worth mentioning are two Kentucky whiskies, Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve. House spirit doubles are available for a bargain £7.
The Last Word
“I’ve only been in love with beer and a mirror.” This was the Lewisham lore of Sid Vicious. The beer, fusion food and activity at the Ravensbourne Arms are agreeable. It now needs a mirror of scrutiny to see how the décor could improve.