Opened by a small group of friends who’ve long been in the hospitality trade – each with their own skill to bring to the table, be that experienced bartender or talented chef – every detail at The Crooked Well has been considered.
A short walk along the tranquil Grove Lane, less than ten minutes from Denmark Hill station, you’ll spot The Crooked Well’s sign through leafy trees as you come across its unimposing exterior. Painted deep blue to a halfway point up its walls and with brickwork above, the pub looks inviting and well groomed. Walk through the doors and the sleek look continues: the bar lies directly ahead, with an attractive display of bottles organised by spirit and a row of low-backed stools tilted towards you – just try not to pull up a chair. A blocky, rustic-looking high-top table and stools lie to the left, with comfier seating further to the side of the room in the form of relaxing armchairs basking in natural light. To the right of the bar is the restaurant – but don’t think uniform lines of tables and chairs: here you’ll find a stylish mix and match making up the dining area, with more comfy armchairs, bench-style seating to one side and a Chesterfield sofa to the other. What looks as though it was once a fireplace is filled with candles; the back wall is covered with art-deco style wallpaper; and lighting is elegant, helping to set the mood.
In such a beautiful venue, it would be almost impossible not to leave the daily grind well and truly outside the front door. Staff are professional but friendly – they know everything there is to know about the menu, so ask away. Plenty of natural light gives the place a feeling of space, while the decor keeps things cosy. The restaurant is arranged so that even when it’s full, you’ll never feel closed in. With more seductive light in the evenings and an increasing number of loyal guests, both drinking and dining, the atmosphere is buzzing with and friendly, and you will be reluctant to leave.
If you’re after just a nibble with your drink, the bar staff are proud to proffer homemade pork scratchings and spiced cashews, but the full menu is not to be missed. The impressive list is succinct without lacking choice, offering a select list of starters, mains and desserts that focus on honest ingredients and bags of flavour. To start, smoked salmon, pickled cucumber, rye bread and quail’s egg (£7.90) is a generous helping and a perfect palate cleanser to begin your meal. Red and golden beetroot, goat’s curd, toasted pumpkin seed and balsamic (£5.85) is served with fresh leaves and is so fulfilling it’s hard to believe it’s just a simple salad – it is absolutely delicious.
Mains feature fresh fish and rustic game dishes, as well as pub classics like the chargrilled rib-eye steak, slow roasted tomato and cafe de Paris butter (£15.90). If you’re a seafood lover, try the smoked haddock brandade, crisp monkfish cheeks, lemon and radish (£14.20) – a mouthwatering mix of tender haddock and creamy potato, with succulent monkfish encased in a light and crispy coating; it’s a stunner of a dish. Confit duck leg, chorizo chick peas, butter beans and tomato with saffron aioli (£14.90) is another knockout meal, full of hearty flavour, and specials are often a showcase of the chef’s talents, so look out for those. There are also a couple of dishes for two people to share, including rabbit and bacon pie (£22.50) – great with a couple of sides, such as Chantenay carrots and seasonal greens, all £3 each.
Puddings include the impossible to resist treacle tart with orange mascarpone (£5.50) and, for two, a hot chocolate pudding, salted caramel ice cream and clotted cream (£11) – indulgent perfection.
For a wind-down drink, the bar won’t disappoint. Pints start from £3.60 and bottles from £3.50, with Guinness, Amstel, Kronenbourg, Peroni and more on offer. Spirits range from popular names like Gordon’s and Jack Daniel’s to more boutique brands such as Sipsmith and Chase. The wines are great for simply sipping, or to match up to your meal, with 125ml glasses starting from £2.80, 250ml glasses from £5.40 and bottles from £14.50. If you just want a couple, carafes are on offer from just £9.70. There’s also a weekly cocktail club night (Thursdays) that runs on a theme – think ‘last kiss of summer’ or focusing on a particular spirit – where you can buy two cocktails from the themed menu and get one free. And these cocktails aren’t full of juice and mediocre spirits, they are expertly made and compare favourably against some of best bars in town.
The Last Word
Outstanding food and a great range of drinks to match, all served in a beautiful setting: the residents of Grove Lane have a local that they can be very proud of – and people from further afield should certainly treat themselves to a visit, too.