On the edge of the City but still very much a City boy venue, this decent traditional pub won’t disappoint for a quick pint before a bus or tube ride.
On a surprisingly quiet street behind the traffic tangle of Aldgate, The White Swan was once a much smaller pub on the ground floor of a modest 19th century building, but in recent years has expanded into the house next door. The small bar area is the oldest part and almost entirely reserved for vertical drinking; the extension is bigger with more table seating but is far from huge. A recent refit has retained a traditional pub style with wood finishes, big engraved mirrors promoting owners Shepherd Neame and framed vintage magazine pages including one reporting on the Jack the Ripper murders for which the area was once notorious. Muted TV news plays on the big screen. The nicest space, if it’s open, is a charming small upstairs room with a fascinating collection of photos of the old East End.
Despite its slightly tucked away setting, the pub is very handy for both Aldgate and Aldgate East tubes and the bus and coach station, and is not that much further from Tower Gateway DLR and Fenchurch Street National Rail station. Note it’s closed at weekends except for private hire.
The White Swan is just outside the City proper and officially in the East End – Brick Lane is only a short walk away – but if the place was ever a proper Cockney boozer those days have long gone. The businesses and banks now spill over into Aldgate and with so many commuting options nearby it’s not surprising that much of the customer base – 100% on occasion – comprises men in suits, often occupying much of the pavement outside in the immediate post-work rush. They do tend to be a more subdued bunch than in some City drinking holes though. Bar staff are polite and the place is well looked after, but doesn’t quite feel it’s ready to welcome you into its heart.
Basic pub grub is served at good value prices for the area. Choices include sandwiches (fish finger sandwich £4.75), burgers (Cajun chicken £7.95, falafel and spinach £7.50), steak and ale pie (£8.95), sausage and mash (£6.95), fish and chips (£7.95), ploughman’s (£7.50) or sweet potato and chick pea curry (£7.55). A daily changing specials board announces such offerings as chilli con carne (£7.25) or smoked mackerel salad (£7.95).
As a Shepherd Neame pub, The White Swan showcases the Faversham brewer’s very traditional cask ales to a standard that’s earned it a Good Beer Guide listing. Master Brew, Spitfire and a changing seasonal are on offer from the handpump. Lagers include Shep’s Kent-brewed versions of international brands like Asahi and Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Over 25 wines are mainly French country stuff and New World varietals, again at decent prices, with 10 sold by the glass (from £2.45).
The Last Word
You probably won’t make an effort to drink here often unless you’re nearby for some other purpose, but this well run traditional pub does a good job of refreshing commuters.