photo by Ewan-M

The Royal Oak is wonderful because it is such a perfect example of an ordinary pub. It does nothing extraordinary or alarming. It is a Proper Pub, with small rooms and nicely mismatched furniture, and random plates and pictures on the walls. Here are some of the reasons that I love it:

The beer: Harveys’ beer is delicious, and the Royal Oak has a full range of it on tap. It’s one of the few pubs in London where you’re pretty much guaranteed a pint of Mild. (I have seen them run out of the lovely dark brew, but I have usually contributed to its demise.) In winter, they do a good smooth sour Old, and there’s always delicious hoppy, happy Harveys’ Best. Tucked away behind the bar are tiny bottles of Imperial Stout, and the Christmas ale – appearing on tap every December – is nearly as lethal. May is Camra-approved Mild month, with bonus extra milds to quaff. February features the seasonal ale ‘Kiss’ (and I’m certain that the bar staff never tire of the utterly hilarious variations on ‘Give us a Kiss please’). This seasonal run of beers is very comforting to a creature of habit like me.

It’s not such a great pub for those fools who spurn the warm, flat goodness of real ale; provision for the keg-drinkers is very limited. As is my sympathy. Drink some ALE instead! It is much, much tastier.

The food: This is the antithesis of a gastropub. The Royal Oak’s menu features PIE, PIE and PIE, with some pudding, and maybe a stew or two, and huge doorstep sandwiches. The portions are vast; I am AFRAID to have the steak and kidney pudding after seeing it defeat more qualified pudding-eaters than me. I have, however, scoffed down the fish pie (with an egg in!) and the veg and stilton veggie option, and can recommend them both. I’ve also been led astray many times by the wonderful salt-beef sandwich – meltingly tender beef, lots of mustard and gherkin – delicious, and excellent at soaking up the many pints of mild.

The toilets: Usually, if someone says ‘Oh! You must see the toilets! They’re the best bit of the whole pub!’ I assume that they’re talking about one of those terrifying city Wetherspoons bank conversions, where the toilets occupy the entire of the basement, and have a water feature in place of a sink, and every time you need a wee you feel vague guilt because this vast cavern could house twenty families in comfort. Anyway. I love the toilets in the Royal Oak, but they’re not actually the best bit, and they’re definitely not vast. They’re quite small, and covered in lovely dark green glossy Victorian-style tiles. The sinks and toilet, and high-up pull-chain cistern, are embellished with blue-painted flowers, and made by Vernon Tutbury. The toilet in the ladies’ is called CHARLOTTE! (This name’s painted inside the bowl. I don’t know what the toilet in the men’s is called. Can anyone illuminate me?)

The moustaches: Heading to the toilet, the observant drinker will encounter a collection of portraits of dudes sporting fine, fine moustaches.

The tiny charity shop in the corner of the back room: Here, you can purchase dubious paperbacks for the princely sum of 50p each, or three for £1. Except I bought all the Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins paperbacks last week.

Late-night opera: One night a few of us were drinking late-night porter (this  pub has a relaxed attitude to chucking-out) when a small portable stereo was popped onto the bar, and opera blazed out of it. In our tipsy state it was nicely surreal. I think this is the only time I’ve heard music playing in there.

Take-out beer: The tiny tasty Indian restaurant across the road doesn’t sell beer, but you can buy whole jugs of the stuff from the Royal Oak to drink with your curry.

The tiling on the outside: It is orange and glossy and most appealing! Tiled pubs make me happy.

Drawbacks to this fine hostelry are:

  • NO PUB CAT! I have met a pub-dog who appears downstairs at closing time but everyone knows that cats are better than dogs. (Actually, the pub dog is quite nice.)
  • Can get a bit crowded at past-work-o-clock. (Which is fair enough. It’s an awesome pub. EVERYONE should want to be here.)