The Stirling Castle, Babushka, Pacific, Snug, The Castle, Recreation Ground… When a gaff changes its name every three or four years one is entitled to doubt whether it’s ever really cemented itself in the hearts and minds of local socialites. Indeed, I hadn’t visited this particular venue since 2005 when I necked a fistful of magic mushrooms and met a girl with, I think, tiny hands.
And now it’s the Camberwell Arms. The original Camberwell Arms stood round the corner on Kimpton Road. A photograph from 1919 shows the proprietor and an assistant standing stiffly in front of shelves of unlabelled bottles of booze. A sign offers ‘bread and cheese’ and the bar boasts eight hand-pumps. It was, in short, a proper boozer.
Upon entering the current Camberwell Arms, however, it’s immediately apparent that this is not so much a pub as a restaurant with a reasonably convincing ‘pub area’. The rest of the space is given over to dining, including a long length of bar with a notice up saying that the bar seats – all empty at the time of our visits – are for diners only between certain complicated times. Quite literally, not a good sign.
Other signs, though, were better. The team behind it are variously involved in other decent establishments (the Anchor & Hope, SE1 and The Canton Arms, SW8), ‘scotch bonnet and pork fat on toast’ was advertised at the bar, and there was, at least, a welcome proliferation of brown – the proper colour for a pub.
And then we tried the ales.
For some time the Hermit’s Cave has been the go-to pub for local ale-lovers. The South East London branch of CAMRA starts its ‘meetings’ there, for example. But I don’t imagine it will be long before the Camberwell Arms is added to the local crawl.
Colin, the cellarman we spoke to, clearly loves his beer and it was heart-wrenching to watch him pulling on a pint of water as he talked us through the four expertly-kept cask offerings: St Austell’s Tribute, Ringwood’s Best and two guests. But it did mean there was more for us. And all of them were delicious.
We didn’t try the food but were intrigued to learn that the chef smokes his own hams on the roof in a home-made smoker fashioned from an old filing cabinet, and then hangs them in the beer-cellar so that they ingest all those wonderful hoppy aromas. We’re having that next time, along with the pork fat.
So overall, as a beer-lover, it’s easy to recommend this Camberwell beauty. But I’ll leave you with the following conversation I had with Half-Life about its status:
Me: Fancy coming to this new pub in Camberwell? Half-Life: If you’re buying, sure. Monday lunchtime is good for me. Me: I think it’s closed Mondays. Half-Life: It’s not a pub, then.
Camberwell Arms 65, Camberwell Church Street, SE5 Open from 11am every day except Monday, 5pm.