The gastro pub boom of recent years has been a hit-and-miss affair but chalk a victory up to this classic Kennington foodie haven, savvily combining passionate cooking with fine wine and beers.
The Three Stags is ideally situated within walking distance of three main tube stops: Lambeth North, Waterloo and Elephant and Castle. Of the three, Lambeth North is most handily situated, a mere three minute stroll north of the pub along Kennington Road. Its location opposite the Imperial War Museum means there is steady tourist traffic during the day, but by night the clientele feels distinctly local. This charming gastro pub relaunched to great fanfare in January 2008 and presents passers-by with signage outside its Kennington Road front door suggesting only two possible destinations: one leading away from the bar (No Beer) and the other inside (Beer). It’s a convincing argument well made.
The decor is pure class. Its L-shaped dining and drinking area hugs the central bar, filled with eighteen or so gorgeous, rustic wooden tables and leather-padded chairs. The rustic theme is continued through the chocolate oak floorboards and chalkboards on which the daily rotating menu is displayed. Each of the tables has a set of handy coat hooks for the storage of personal items, a vestige of the bar's earlier days. Another nod to yesteryear lies next to bar's entrance where a wooden booth labelled ‘Chaplin’s Corner’ is a tribute to Charlie Chaplin’s father, a former local who allegedly passed many a drunken hour inside these walls.
The humour of the Three Stags’ initial beer promise is carried through to the smiling staff who know their stuff. Their service is welcoming and attentive. The clientele is a mixed bag of post-work suits, unwinding locals catching up over a lager and romantic tete-a-tetes. On the whole the patronage is young, which is reflected in the cool choice of music ranging from Cafe del Mar compilations to Coldplay.
Fine food has always been a focus at the Three Stags. An earlier incarnation of the bar apparently used to admit diners only, as if to underscore its priorities. That alienating entry policy thankfully no longer applies but the place remains visibly passionate about food. The menu changes daily and is a head-turning affair with excellent meat, seafood and vegetarian options.
The starters range between £4.50-£7. A salmon and haddock fishcake with spinach and poached egg is a slightly disappointing starter, somewhat dry and flavourless although beautifully presented. The chicken supreme with bacon, roast turnip and sweet potato is infinitely better - tender and succulent meat perfectly seasoned with sage and rosemary and delicately dressed with a garlic vinaigrette. At £9.50, it’s a sensational melange of flavours matched by its mouthwatering price. On Sundays, a trio of roasts is on offer, including a particularly delectable cut of lamb sourced from Snowdonia in Wales.
A small but sturdy cocktail selection is offered at the Three Stags, each created with skill and accessibly priced at £5. An unhurried, well-crafted mojito with generous helpings of fresh mint is expertly pressed with aromatic lime quarters and bitters.
The wine offer is particularly commendable. It’s a constantly revised roster focusing on French and Spanish vineyards, alongside the occasional Austrian or Argentinean blend. The dependable Kent label Chapel Down also makes an appearance with its Bacchus Reserve, a marvellously dry white priced at £20 per bottle and offered here by the glass. Bottle prices range between £13-£30 depending on blend, label and vintage, but nothing here disappoints. A 2007 Veneto Pinot Grigio rose (£17 or £6 for a 250ml glass) is particularly recommended, uncommonly crisp and dry with just the right hint of thirst-quenching fruit.
Beer lovers won’t be disappointed with an unusually vast selection of draught beers for a pub of this size. Usual suspects such as Peroni and Heineken mingle with rarer draught favourites Greene King IPA, Leffe, Amstel, Hoegaarden, Abbot Ale and Ruddles. Bottled beer is more extensive including Budvar, Sol, Asahi and Tiger, whilst their spirits shelf is equally well stocked with classics - shot prices start from £3.
The Last Word
You are promised beer on entry, and on that count it succeeds marvelously, but a visit to The Three Stags delivers so much more. You’ll be hard pressed to find fresher food or menu ideas in this price range, or a more lovingly crafted ambiance.