Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Hare and Billet, Blackheath

It was probably fair to say I'd given up on Blackheath as a 'dining destination', as tour guides would say. True, there are one or two places worth a go once in a while: Laicram gives you what feels at least like an authentic Thai, Buenos Aires has a fair steak or homemade chorizo, Zero Degrees remains an unfalteringly steady venue especially for pizzas and Chapters offers a higher-end dining option. It's not all chains that seem to be able to stomach the high rent in the area (100k a year for the Venice/Mountain View site, anyone?) which is heartening. I shouldn't be too down on the place having lived here for 7 years.

However - the idea of what you'd call a 'craft beer pub' in Blackheath? Oh no. No chance. Craft beer and associated pubs to my mind still seems quite entrenched in East London. Blackheath, even at the stretch of the most ripe imagination, will never be East London or indeed hip and overrun with bearded men gasping for a Camden Hells. Brockley, maybe. Blackheath: no. The best you'll get in Blackheath is the wonderfully perfect pub's pub, the Dacre Arms, and Lord may this survive.

Therefore a craft beer pub with really strong food was really pushing the boundaries of the imagination. Joy of joys then when a mixture of both plonked itself on Blackheath's doorstep in the shape of a refurbished Hare and Billet in February of this year. A bar twenty-strong with pumps and taps? Sorry, did I hear this correctly? A bar menu that dares to challenge Blackheath with the word gremolata on its menu and negroni on its cocktail list? Pull the other one.

Several 'booze-only' visits have been rewarded with rapidly changing list of pumps: once-weekly according to a member of the bar staff. Whitstable Brewery, London Fields Brewery, Truman Brewery and Kernel Brewery to name but four. A weissbier was on tap along with a dutch-style "Wit" beer and also on one trip, the most dangerous lager ever: Curious Lager from the Chapel Down people in Tenterden. Plastic glasses, which will make some spit I'm sure, are available for drinking on grass over the road for an informal al-fresco option. See below for a snapshot of the beer list on one visit and make your own mind up:

The other surprised - you've guessed it - is the quality of the food. A plate of confit duck was lentils really had little in it to find fault. Crisp skin, not at all flaccid, along with well-seasoned lentils, carrots and a roasted shallot near the point of collapse - which is a good thing, of course. This strikes me as quality pub food that recalls the likes of benchmark food pubs The Anchor and Hope and The Eagle. Salt cod, pork belly, foie gras, cuttlefish and stuffed courgettes give you the sort of level they're aiming for here. A friend also reported a generous, fully-flavoured chicken and ham pie for 2-3 to share (echoes of the Anchor and Hope again).

If there's one stalling point that will divide - as it already has done on the Blackheath Bugle blog for example - it's the prices. Bitters come in at £3.50-£4.00, some of the ales on tap hit as high as £6 a pint and the food is typically around £15 a main, £7 for starters in a town where punters are probably more used to £10/£5. However the reality of the situation is that Blackheath has more than enough of a captive audience to want to pay these prices in return for good quality food and a diverse range of booze - including myself. 

Blackheath has an absolute bloody gem here.

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