Dressed down and demotic by Chelsea standards, this self-consciously quirky pub offers a good drinks range but is let down by indifferent service.
Next door to the Chelsea Curzon arthouse cinema and surrounded by boutiques, The Trafalgar enjoys – or maybe struggles with – a location in one of London’s richest and most fashionable areas. After an unlikely spell as a sports pub, it’s now attempting to live up to the plushness of its surroundings by looking, well, rather weird, with an exterior decked out in the violent purple of a pair of 1960s Swinging London bellbottoms.
Several more vivid colours feature in an interior design that’s part gastro pub, part soft furnishings catalogue with a timid dash of nostalgic psychedelia – checkerboard tiles, droopy lampshades, exposed girders, ceiling fans, eye-challenging upholstery and silly wallpaper. A single, rather large space is arranged around a central bar, with a cordoned-off restaurant area towards the back.
For all the effort to make the place look individual, the standard issue blackboards announcing standard issue deals reveal this is actually a chain pub – in fact part of Mitchell’s and Butler’s “unbranded” Castle chain. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – Castle run some wonderful pubs – but in this case they haven’t quite pulled it off.
Aside from a few fast food joints, The Trafalgar is probably the most inclusive establishment in the area and attracts a mixed crowd, from skinny fashionistas and beard-stroking cinéphiles to blokes from the local buildings sites, but they’re a generally youngish bunch. It’s not especially welcoming, though, partly because the self consciously odd design really doesn’t hang together, partly because the rather Wetherspoonish open-plan layout feels uncomfortable, and partly because the staff tend towards the dithering and disengaged.
Menus change daily at The Trafalgar, offering upmarket pub grub with a dash of gastro influence. Choices might include sharing boards with cured meats and quails eggs (£15), homemade soup (£5.25), pork and chorizo burgers (£11), toasted couscous, halloumi and avocado salad (£6.50/£9.50), half a roast chicken (£12), sea bass fillets (£13.50) and a few vegetarian main course options like asparagus and crème fraiche tart (£11). Cooked bar snacks (three for £12) include whitebait and baked crusty Brie. Sandwiches are available in the daytime, when you can also take advantage of a fixed price deal on selected cooked dishes (two courses £10, three £13).
The main attraction, unless you’re a serious fan of bright purple sofas, is the lengthy drinks list – “longer than a Harrods sale queue,” they claim, though that might be stretching it. Four real ales include Sharp’s Doom Bar and guests from brewers like Purity and Sambrook’s, and there are several imported speciality keg beers including Bernard from the Czech Republic as well as London choices from Camden Town and Meantime. A handful of worthwhile bottled beers include Negra Modelo and Goose Island Honkers Ale. The 35-strong list of mainly varietal wines is helpfully classified by taste categories and almost half of its entries are sold by the glass (from £4). A few specialist spirits are stocked too, notably rums.
The Last Word
Relaxed drinking holes are thin on the ground in Chelsea so The Trafalgar is a welcome enough refuge with decent stuff to drink, but its aesthetic shortcomings would be more forgivable if more oomph and enthusiasm was put into running the place.