We’re not talking fancy gastros or soulless chain pubs here, but the last remaining free houses and old man’s pubs: the genuine, no nonsense, old school drinking holes.
The Owl and the Pussycat
Roast: At this genuine East End boozer, you almost have to fight to get a table. You’ll be left in a comatose state by the tasty roast dinner with ‘the lot’ piled high on a magical plate that seems to be able to create an endless amount of juicy, meaty gravy.
The stomach-breaking portions are definitely not for pussycats.
Extra trimmings: With a decent boozer it’s all about authenticity, not ‘aute cuisine. So the extra trimmings relate to what makes each pub’s experience extra special.
Here, it’s the quintessentially British irony that makes this pub cool in trendy Shoreditch with its dodgy décor, sarcastic old landlord, and dark interior.
Serving times: 1 or 2pm – ’til sold out
Location: 34 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, London, E2 7DP
Call: 020 7613 3628
Roast: Ok, so this free house’s roast has been in the Observer newspaper’s awards, but don’t let that put you off — you’re guaranteed to see more locals than tourists.
The duck fat roast potatoes are so unbelievably good, they’ll make you go momentarily blind. And be careful as you bite into the crackling of the pork belly, as you won’t be able to control the expression of ecstasy on your face.
Extra trimmings: The ‘bar props’ (these are the old people who pretty much live here) sit at the bar all day and wait till you come up, so they can tell you their latest joke, anecdote, or that you look like a girl they once knew. Quality entertainment.
Serving times: 12pm – 5pm (or sold out)
Location: 296a Camberwell New Road, Camberwell, London, SE5 ORP
Call: 020 7274 7037
The Montague Arms
Roast: If you want to experience a roast how London’s Grans make it, come here. Every vegetable on the plate is definitely not there for health reasons.
Take the mashed swede that melts on your tongue and has the ability to butter bread. The homemade Yorkshire puddings appear to bloom on your plate as they soak up the gravy.
Extra trimmings: The classic London pub landlord Peter Hoyle has been the owner for 40 years, and as soon as you walk in, you feel at home when he calls you ‘love.’ Throw the guidebook away as you sit down and learn a bit of London history from him.
Price: £6.50 including pudding
Serving times: 12pm – 5pm
Location: New Cross, London, SE15 2PA
The Cat’s Back
Roast: Here you get half a roast chicken, or lamb that’s just the right sort of pink. It’s melt-in-your-mouth meat accompanied by a dark, rich gravy. And they’ve added a cheeky addition to the traditional roast — a smooth yet firm broccoli cheese.
Extra trimmings: This is the only true free house left in posh West London. It survived when the surrounding area was bought up by international corporations and turned into riverside flats. Therefore, the landlord can change the ales and lagers to suit his customers, not the breweries, and it still has the most amazing collection of junk adorning its walls — from Red Indian chiefs to golden Greek Gods and Barbies dressed as Baywatch lifeguards.
Serving times: Varies between 12 and 1pm – late. Phone to check.
Location: 86-88 Point Pleasant, Putney, London, SW18 1PP
Call: 020 8877 0818
Roast: Here, you get comfort food in a setting that’s possibly out of your comfort zone. As you sit at the table with locals from the nearby housing estate, your heart’ll be in your mouth along with the deliciously crispy roast potatoes, home cooked veg, and succulent meat.
But after a couple of pints and Yorkshire puds, you’ll become part of the family.
Extra trimmings: Eavesdropping on the regulars. Nowhere else will you be able to hear native gossip so clearly and comfortably.
Price: Under £7
Serving times: 12.30pm – 3.30pm
Location: Forest Rd, Walthamstow, London, E17 4JD
Call: 020 8531 8001