Great London Pubs: A mighty Oak
by NJ McGarrigle
The Royal Oak, 44 Tabard Street, Borough, London SE1 4JU
Everything about the Royal Oak pub in Borough has a hand-covered-cough quality to it – from the moment you step in through its doors, you are aware of being in the presence of quiet greatness; it’s up to you if you wish to acknowledge it or not.
Understated beauty runs throughout the bar, from its dark oak to the chandeliers; there is evident pride in all its tradition, but not to the point of stuffiness. Spending a few hours here feels like getting reacquainted with an old friend: one feels at ease right away thanks to Paul and the well-trained staff (finding a London pub with staff that prides itself in their trade is as refreshing as a cool draught of lager on a balmy August afternoon). There are comfortable seats by large windows, while there is ample room to lean at the bar too. The bar is split between two rooms, which gives the Royal Oak one of its most charming features: a kind of cubbyhole, with a latch that allows a third bar. Punters in for a swift one can order and sup standing here, with the option of perusing the second-hand books for sale stacked by the walls (I picked up a Saul Bellow novel for £1.50).
The Royal Oak is owned by Harveys, so the ale (Pale, Mild, Best) is excellent and a great price for London. The food menu is impressive too – it would be hard to better the Sunday roast – and there is a discerning wine list as well. The absence of any music, TV, or cursed fruit machines is welcome and puts conversation front and centre stage in the style of many of the great Irish pubs. This place is an ideal spot for the elbow-touching chats converged over a few jars, or if you are a solo traveller, it is a happy setting to while away the day with a newspaper or book. The rocking chair set in the corner is a fitting symbol of the pub: its metronomic motion is a happy measure of time well spent; your troubles or strife will soon be set back on its heels after an hour or two here.
In the Royal Oak, you are more than happy to abandon the day to the notion.
From its modest exterior, the Royal Oak could appear to have little going for it to the unknowing eye. But step across its threshold and you will discover a depth and delight that will have you dragging friends here time and time again.
The Royal Oak sits in the vast shadow of St George the Martyr church, and although it may bow its head in deference to its much grander neighbours, it need not have any feelings of inferiority. The pub’s well-preserved heritage and, for want of a better word, sober charm will find plenty of converts for years to come. Here is a pub to salve any soul that passes through its doors for a sup and a seat.