When they’re not burning Popes, they make a mean pint in Lewes. Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter is a classic English ale, made with love in their handsome steampunk brewery. On the rare occasions I’ve seen it as a guest up North, it’s the only beer I’ve asked to be served unsparkled. It’s a permanent fixture at the Harp and at the Market Porter in Borough, near to where I work. There are worse ways to spend a summer evening than blowing the froth off a pint outside the Market Porter, even if their standards can be a bit hit and miss. Borough is stuffed with good pubs – and quite a few that should be good that aren’t (The George, I’m talking to you). One of the very best is the Royal Oak on Tabard Street, a short walk from Borough tube station.
This is Harvey’s sole London outpost, a street corner boozer with a largely unspoilt two-bar layout and a rare (but unused) offsales counter. There’s bare floorboards, balding rugs, old refectory tables and creaky windsor chairs. It’s the kind of pub that has a book sale and don’t mind if you take a shortcut to the bog by walking behind the bar. There’s even that London rarity, beermats. Why do so many London pubs think it’s acceptable for the punters to sit with their elbows in a little puddle of lager?
Tabard street might seem a bit of a backwater, but the area has definately moved up since my first trip when I took a wrong turning and found myself in an estate full of small hoodies with large dogs. I was there again on tuesday night for a long-overdue visit with a couple of mates, and despite the full complement of Harvey’s gear on pump, we stuck to the Sussex Best, enjoying the balance of hops and fruitiness of one of my favourite beers. The Oak manages to serve up decent nosh, too, without coming over all self-consciously ‘gastro’. Prices have crept up since I was last in and there was no sign of their massively enjoyable pork sandwich which felt like eating an entire pig between two loaves.
We had a better night than a chap on a neighbouring table of what looked like social workers. All was quiet until one stood up and shouted “I’ve had ENOUGH of this!”, dropping his pint and rushing out in tears, followed by a chum shouting “KEVIN! KEVIIIIN!!” who then came straight back in and apologised to the whole pub. Given the amused, roll-eyed looks of the bar staff as they cleaned up Kevin’s mess, this was a regular occurence. Still, I hope Kev got home OK.