Elizabeth Street, Belgravia. 7pm. Any weeknight. Walking past the dozens or boutiques, foodie shops and cafes on Elizabeth Street, you hear it first. A gentle buzz that gets louder and louder as you draw near. Then you see it. A crowd of people gathered on the pavement, gin and tonics in hand, laughing, joking and generally having a jolly good time.
Closer inspection reveals an attractive bunch of young professionals. Estate agents possibly. Rather up-market ones. They probably work for Savills. You look closer and see that they are gathered outside a pub. Nothing odd about that. But it is a rather smart pub. And the crowd is rather neatly stowed behind a plush velvet rope swinging merrily between some rather shiny new posts.
Something about it the orderly manner in which the punters are positioned behind the barrier (along with the way they politely adhere to the notice asking them not to stray into the neighbouring Mews) made me want to go in. I was fairly sure that the food would be overpriced and rather poncey, but I was prepared to take a risk (possibly the attractive clientele were an added incentive). So, on Thursday night, I did just that.
I arrived before my dining companion and was immediately disappointed on seeing the usual swathe of bodies - was there no room at the inn? Fortunately, whilst the pavement was heaving with post work banter, there were plenty of free tables at the rear of the pub, reserved for those eating. I studied the wine list. Pretty good. 11 different Champagnes for starters. A decent selection of offerings by the glass. Perhaps a little 'safe' for my liking, but there are a few more adventurous choices such as a favourite of mine - Limoux Toques et Clochers at £20 and Craggy Range Te Kahu Cabernet Merlot from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand at £32 . Some gaps too though. In a selection of 11 whites there were 4 sauvignon blancs and 4 chardonnays and not a riesling to be seen. Boo hiss. And no vintages - always an irritation. Was feeling a little disappointed by this but then spotted that there is a larger selection on the main wine list for the (more swanky) restaurant upstairs. Good. Nice glass of Prosecco cheered me up too as I surveyed the clean, comfortable surroundings (think cream walls, scrubbed pine tables, flattering lighting).
My friend arrived with her (admittedly small) dog in toe. No one batted an eyelid and said dog was even given a small ramekin of water to drink from when requested. The menu. Excellent. Nothing poncey here. Good gastropub fare. All boxes ticked. Fish and chips. Pie of the day with potato and pea puree (it looked superb). Bangers and mash with red onion gravy. Steak and chips. Fish of day (sea bream). Smoked haddock fish cakes with watercress, fennel and Champagne cream. Salt pork with colcannon. Plus some other more imaginative but correctly 'pubby' dishes that sounded equally tempting. Lighter dishes included traditional ploughmans, wonderfully tempting sandwiches (river trout with horseradish cream and cucumber).
I plumped for the perhaps predictable burger. It was excellent - really good organic flavoursome beef with just the right level of herbs and seasoning, a good seeded bun, homemade tomato and horseradish relish. Hit the spot in a big way though the chips were slightly disappointing - not quite crispy enough. They obviously were not too bad though as my plate was very clean. Rib-eye steak with Bearnaise was equally delicious. Puds were weaker, though partly because we ordered badly. The chocolate and orange cheesecake was mainly white chocolate (a pet hate) but the treacle tart was good though I think I make a better one (!).
All in all, I was impressed. Good proper pub food with a gastro edge. Attractive customers (and waiters) to pass the time whilst your companion is in the loo. A good wine list. And fairly reasonably priced. I say, 'go'!
The Thomas Cubitt, 44 Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, London, SW1W 9PA