“Fun and pleasure will abound, high and low and great and small, run in droves to view Vauxhall.” This popular refrain was joyously endorsed by Londoners from 1661 to 1859, honouring Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, praised by Samuel Pepys and James Boswell as the heartbeat of the capital’s entertainment. Occupying a fraction of the once-200 acre gardens is a new Vauxhall successor for enjoyment, the award-winning Black Dog. Here, fun and pleasure can be found in good-humoured ambience, excellent drinks with a strong commitment to real ale and value food.
The Black Dog overlooks the pleasing greenery of Spring Gardens – a testimony to the pleasure gardens of yore. The corner site pub recalls the Victorian period and is built in a typical south London Arts and Crafts pattern with two eye-catching pediment gables. A range of ground level brown-green tiling, arrays of open windows and warm brown brick provide an appealing exterior. This is made more engaging by a cheerful outside area with picnic tables. Internally, the pub is fifty shades of brown with varnished timber flooring, wooden tables and chairs and a teak-hued bar, behind which is a large tiled decorative piece. Most notable feature is the open kitchen, allowing customers to see the chef brigade at work and to savour the succulent smells. At the rear is an open courtyard furnished with picnic tables. Decorations are a disparate collection of prints and knick-knacks such as 1930’s radios. It’s surprising that the only record of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens’ remarkable role in London’s life is just one print of a Georgian crowd scene there.
By 2010 the then Lavender pub had fallen into sad torpor. Happily rescued by a private operator, it was renovated and renamed. In three years, trade has grown steadily with thanks to the quality offering. Amiable service from the staff is an essential part of this and manager Joe Shaw has been with The Black Dog from the first day, helping inspire this prevailing friendliness.
Office people form the bulk of the trade at breakfast, lunch and early evening times. Major employers include nearby Macmillan Cancer and Walker Books and, more intriguingly, MI5 and MI6. Later in the evening and on Sundays there’s a fair input of custom from the ‘Voho’ professionals who’ve moved into such developments as St George’s Wharf. Sundays are becoming increasingly popular with this group, as Sunday roasts are followed by a quiz with a rolling cash jackpot. Casual customers are people who visit the Oval and the Old Vic – both in the Lambeth vicinity. The pub is shut on Saturdays but available for hire. Numbers of events and get-togethers are growing as full packages can be booked. These, following the Pleasure Gardens’ practice, can comprise food, drink, music and entertainment.
Overseeing the kitchen is London-loving Japanese Chef Yoshi Yamakaza, who gained accolades from the Observer and from foodie journal Square Meal. Given the office clientele, breakfasts are served from 8am to 11am and the menu includes eggs in any style, granola and yoghurt. Pepys and Boswell – both hearty breakfasters – would have approved of the kippers, the porridge and the Full English. The main menu is available from noon to 9.30pm. Starters list white anchovies, whisky-cured salmon and - a Yoshi original - squid with wasabi mayo. A herby Scotch egg and creamy, spicy devilled kidneys are both good value at £3 and £6 respectively.
Mains feature a vegetarian option of grilled halloumi, fried black bream fillet and the ever-popular cheeseburgers and sirloin steak. Roasted pork belly (£13) and rack of pork ribs (£14) are agreeably different in flavour and texture. As a mark of professionalism, a finger bowl is provided to help in holding and munching through the ribs. Desserts include cheesecake and berry compote and ice cream-filled profiteroles – naughty in calories but nice in chomping. The bar snacks remain available until 11pm and list smoked paprika pistachios and rosemary almonds. Pricing is honest given the quality.
Leading trade journal The Publican’s Morning Advertiser has given The Black Dog a ranking as one of the best pubs in London. Its care and attention to real ale, the propeller of present-day pub growth, has done much to secure this commendation. It has four handpulls with an ever-changing selection to whistle-whetting beverages. Among the breweries favoured are Ringwood and Old Dairy, and London micros such as Florence of Herne Hill and Sambrook’s of Battersea. Cellarmanship is first-rate and the prestigious Cask Marque accreditation has been earned. £3.85 a pint is good Vauxhall value.
Bottled beers are equally excellent and among the tipples is Cooper’s Pale Ale from Adelaide – the beer that for decades was the one Aussie shining light among the gloom of commercialised fizzy lager. Other interesting bottles are Bavaria’s tart Erdinger Urweiss, and two unusually sourced lagers, Palma Cristal from Cuba and Chang from Thailand. Draught Cider is the highly rated Thundering Molly from Herefordshire’s Aberhalls. The wine list is select and keenly priced with whites including an Albarino from Galicia and a Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc. The reds list a Ribera del Douro Tempranillo and a Primitivo from Puglia. There are four roses and one from Cotes de Provence is fittingly fresh and fragrant for summer imbibing. Wines are priced at around an inexpensive £5.95 for 250ml.
The Last Word
Fun and pleasure abound again in Vauxhall at The Black Dog, and perhaps the only requirement is further decorative testament to how enchanting the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were, to help elevate this pub to the same dizzy heights.