Brixton is one of the most cosmopolitan areas of London, mixing the long-standing south London community with a new breed of young professionals looking to escape the sky-high property prices of neighbouring Clapham. With this has come an influx of upmarket bars and gastro pubs - The Prince of Wales joins the gang.
The Prince of Wales sits somewhat awkwardly in the heart of Brixton, nestled against an ugly – and rather huge – branch of KFC. It’s a pleasant surprise, then, to peer through the window of the pretty building and spy a neat bar and restaurant with pristine white tablecloths, glossy silver fans overhead and upmarket light features. It’s a huge space and one they have really done a good job of utilising, with the bar and dining areas separate without feeling too segregated. There’s a definite New York style underlying this bar, with a Tribeca edge. The pub just feels a little misplaced in location, even though it’s part of a widening gentrification taking place in the Brixton area.
The problem with covering tables in white tablecloths, sparkling glassware and feature flower centrepieces is that the expectations of diners are immediately raised from looking forward to a simple pub meal to expecting restaurant-style etiquette. And that isn’t always the case at the Prince of Wales. The service is very friendly, sure, and some of the waiting staff are full of smiles and seem genuinely interested in ensuring you are happy. However, sometimes the service can feel hurried and awkward, like they haven’t quite got the confidence to deliver gastro dishes to expectant customers. This can make for an, at times, awkward dining experience. If they relaxed the aesthetic or improved the service level, the pub would be spot on.
The menu at Prince of Wales reads incredibly well and has clearly been thought through. The mix of simpler, and cheaper, pizzas at around £8 and more refined main courses at the £9.50 to £14.50 mark is a smart move, catering to the mixed fortunes of locals living in the area.
The delivery of the food is a bit of a mixed bag – although, when they get it right, they get it very right. For example, a starter of celeriac veloute (£4.50) is a real delight and showcases the skills of the kitchen. The thick, creamy veloute is incredibly well seasoned with a delicate flavour that is rich without being overpowering. A light dribble of white truffle oil lifts the flavour higher with an earthy undertone that is utterly delicious. It’s served with two slivers of cheese and mushroom toasties that are a pleasant surprise and add a little depth to the dish. Truly exceptional. Also strong is a starter of duck and pistachio terrine (£6). Terrines often crop up on pub menus but almost always let you down. Not here; instead the prettily presented dish is full of flavour, balancing the rich duck and sweet pistachio well. It’s meaty but delicate and is served with rich caramelised onions and crunchy cornichons.
Moving onto the mains, it’s clear that this is a kitchen that knows how to handle meat. The lamb shank (£12.50) is perfectly cooked, effortlessly falling away from the bone. It’s served with slices of potatoes, but it’s worth getting a side of broccoli with anchovies, which has a slight salty flavour that works very well with the sweet lamb. Unfortunately, however, where the highs of the menu are very high, the lows are very low. An oxtail paccheri (£11.50) does not live up to the promise shown by some of the other dishes. The homemade pasta is too thick and doughy and sits uncomfortably in the stomach with a gloopy, unpleasant texture. The oxtail is tasty enough until you bite into one of the many clumps of pure fat. And the addition of the Pecorino crumb adds little to the dish.
Desserts are also a mixed bag. The lemon posset (£5) comes with a mint jelly, which is a nice idea that’s underwhelming in practice - the mint doesn’t quite come through in what results as an insipid green jelly. The meringue served alongside is nicely sweet but doesn’t have a great texture, tasting a little too grainy. And the posset itself, although creamy, is far too sharp. Luckily, the cherry and almond tart (£5) saves the day. Appearing almost as a deconstructed Bakewell tart, it’s sweet and never too cloying. The accompanying sorbet, although delicious, holds undesirable ice crystals in places, but overall it’s a successful dessert.
The beer at The Prince of Wales could be a bit more imaginative given the height of the London craft beer movement, but the pub does make the effort with a large number on tap, including Blue Moon, Doombar, Amstel and Birra Moretti among others. This is bolstered by a decent bottled beer selection including Goose Island and the premium ale Ora di Milano Doppio Malta.
The wine menu is concise at seven reds and as many whites, but it’s very well put together. The price points are well spread and bottles have been chosen for their quality. The Rioja Reserva is especially good for £25 with an incredibly quaffable cherry flavour. It’s good to see that The Prince of Wales has paid such close attention to its choice of wines.
The Last Word
If the Prince of Wales can sort out its service and ensure that the quality of the food matches up to that incredible veloute, you can easily see it taking the crown among the many up-and-coming upmarket venues in Brixton. Watch this space.