All SE London’s Wetherspoons… Ranked!

Love Spoons? Go to paragraph one. Hate Spoons? Jump to paragraph two.

With their cheap drinks, well-kept real ales and often fabulous premises, it’s not outlandish to suggest that Wetherspoons is a prime player in safeguarding the future of pub-going. They are places where even the poor and the young can congregate for a night out or a meal together, and who would wish to exclude these groups from having fun? There are 15 Wetherspoons that carry an SE postcode. But which is the best?

With their piss-stinking carpets, canteen-style interiors and bonkers Brexiteer boss, who would ever want to set foot inside one of these god-awful booze cathedrals? If they are not filled with obese, diabetic men drinking from dawn to dusk while picking perfect partners on the Internet (‘Not Keira Knightley, her chin’s too big’) they are infested with the poor and the young. There are 15 Wetherspoons that carry an SE postcode. But which is the least worst?

When we put this question to Twitter we were surprised to find one person’s best was often another person’s worst, or occasionally both at the same time. What was needed here was a rigorous and systematic scoring system. So we devised a list of important criteria and then visited every Spoons at a different time to make a mockery of it, ourselves and all science.

Do I care? Look at me. Look into my eyes. I’ve been to 15 Spoons.

15th – The Edmund Halley, Lee

Time of visit: Sunday afternoon

Ambience: Very busy, almost too crowded. Mostly older men in groups or sitting alone. Got asked if I wanted to buy a toaster. 3/10

Premises: The action takes place on the ground floor of a grim and dilapidated 1960s office block. 2/10

Ale selection: Four guest ales. 5/10

Service: Fine. Aided by a smart, elderly, ear-ringed punter at the bar who told me they do free tasters and encouraged me to taste everything in order to save money, like his father-in-law taught him. ‘He’s over here, if you want to meet him.’ 5/10

Outside space: A few outside tables available in the UK’s Worst Shopping Precinct, 2010. 3/10

Total: 18/50

14th – Pommelers Rest, Bermondsey

Time of visit: Saturday evening

Ambience: Lots of tourists in with the locals, which makes sense given its situation. They probably can’t believe the prices, although at £1.68 for a half of Wadworth’s Burnt Orange, it is the most expensive Spoons in SE London. I take a seat between two guys on laptops. One is watching a Hugh Hefner documentary and the other is writing his CV. He has mis-spelt ‘detail orientated’. 4/10

Premises: A grand old building on a corner plot just seconds from Tower Bridge (formerly the Tower Bridge Hotel). The pub is split into two uninspiring sections, making it tricky deciding which one not to sit in. 4/10

Ale selection: Five guest ales on which to get leathered. 6/10

Service: Slow service despite four staff behind the bar. One lad is good but the others? Too much pouting and not enough pouring. 3/10

Outside space: Pavement only. One point for the bins and another for Tower Bridge. 2/10

Total: 19/50

13th – The Gate Clock, Greenwich

Time of visit: Friday afternoon

Ambience: Lots of groups of geezers sinking pints of Stella. ‘I’m just having a few here before getting on it properly later with the boys.’ 4/10

Premises: A large two-storey emporium in a modern block. Seems to be locals downstairs and students and tourists up. 4/10

Ale selection: Five guest ales on. 6/10

Service: A long wait despite not much of a queue. 3/10

Outside space: A strip of covered terrace by a busy road. Greenwich affords many wonderful views. This is not one of them. 3/10

Total: 20/50

12th – The Rockingham Arms, Elephant & Castle

Time of visit: Saturday early evening

Ambience: Busy with a very mixed crowd. Lots of old boys, Latin Americans, bikers and young’uns prinking. One very much feels one is in the city. Indeed, you can watch it hurtling by through the floor to ceiling windows. 6/10

Premises: Glass-fronted ground floor of a ’60s office block with trademark Aren’t-Deco motifs. A surfeit of furniture. 4/10

Ale selection: Five guest ales on. 6/10

Service: Asked for a half but was given a pint because he wasn’t listening properly. Offered to give it to me cheap, which I accepted, possibly too enthusiastically. 3/10

Outside space: Some tables available on the pavement out front, at least set back a little from the traffic. Allows you to mingle with the street drinkers.

‘The Gypsies took it,’ one of them confided in me.

‘Took what?’

‘My mind.’ 3/10

Total: 22/50

11th – The Postal Order, Crystal Palace

Time of visit: Thursday lunchtime

Ambience: Busy, with lots of local workers lunching. A reminder that for many, a Spoons is a cafe as much as a pub. 6/10

Premises: A rather uninspiring single, rectangular room in a former post office. Nice daytime sunlight at the front. 4/10

Ale selection: Five ales on. 6/10

Service: No wait despite a full pub. Service with a smile. 7/10

Outside space: None 0/10

Total: 23/30

=8th – The London and Rye, Catford

Time of visit: Sunday early evening

Ambience: Plenty of chatter and laughs, especially up front. A good mix of colours and creeds – made me realise how much whiter the clientele is in many of the others – but was very male heavy, which gets on your nerves after a while, like gas or war. 5/10

Premises: A former merchant’s villa with a large front extension on the busy A21. 4/10

Ale selection: Three guest ales available. 4/10

Service: Plenty of staff on and efficient service. Was offered a surplus strawberry. 7/10

Outside space: Restricted to tables out front on a small terrace separated from the pavement. 4/10

Total: 24/50

=8th – The Watch House, Lewisham

Time of visit: Sunday afternoon

Ambience: Manages to feel a little cosier than some, a bit softer, quieter. Might be the faux bookcases. A perceptibly younger crowd, by which I mean people in their 40s and 50s instead of 60s and 70s. A man at the bar told me he felt sorry for everyone in there as they hadn’t seen the world. ‘Not like me. I’ve seen Maria Fletcher. You know? In New York. Danced for the Aga Khan.’ Bumped into Stinky Pete who told me he’d only popped out to buy some milk and was on his fourth pint. 7/10

Premises: A bit smaller than average but with a long, rambling journey to the 1st floor lavs like you’re staying in the the worst hotel you’ve ever stayed in. 5/10

Ale selection: Three guest ales available 4/10

Service: A short wait but a lovely, smiling bar girl who looked pleased (relieved?) to have someone smile back at her. 6/10

Outside space: A tiny smoking area at the rear and a few tables out front on Lewisham High Street. 2/10

Total: 24/10

=8th – The Surrey Docks, Rotherhithe

Time of visit: Friday lunchtime

Ambience: Gor blimey, guv’nor, this feels like proper old London. Builders swearing, old girls doing shots and workers tucking into fish and chips (the offer of the day). A geezer on a mobility scooter is constantly on the move, like he’s wandering about, which to be fair, is how I’d use one. 6/10

Premises: A nondescript building by a mega Tesco on the busy A200. Sunny at the front and gloomy at the rear 5/10

Ale selection: Just two guest ales on, the fewest on my tour. 3/10

Service: Charming service by two youths discussing how little sleep they had had the night before. 6/10

Outside space: A terrace ideal for fans of the A200, but it is at least roomy and sunny. 4/10

Total: 24/50

7th – The Great Harry, Woolwich

Time of visit: Friday afternoon

Ambience: Very busy and with a loud male roar as the build-up to the weekend commences. At the bar, as I am counting out some change to pay for my beer, a woman puts her hand on my arm and asks me softly if I have enough money for the weekend. (Admittedly, I am looking a little dishevelled.) Overwhelmed by this unexpected kindness, I begin to cry. I assure her I am fine. She looks unconvinced. 7/10

Premises: Undistinguished corner plot on General Gordon Square, with a row of mobility scooters parked against the outside wall. 5/10

Ale selection: Four guest ales available. 5/10

Service: A decent effort in difficult circumstances. 6/10

Outside space: Pavement standing only. 2/10

Total: 25/50

6th – The Brockley Barge, Brockley

Time of visit: Sunday afternoon.

Ambience: Buzzing, with a mixed and convivial crowd. 7/10

Premises: An imposing corner plot from the outside but feels disappointingly smaller on the inside – like the opposite of the TARDIS. Nice flagstones. 5/10

Ale selection: Five guest ales presented. But the first two I asked for were ‘off’. Turn round the pump clips then, isn’t it? 3/10

Service: Efficient. A charming young woman offered to help a disabled guy back to his table with his bottle of wine and one glass. 7/10

Outside space: A paved area adjacent to the busy Brockley Road. Nice for watching the 171 trundle by. 4/10

Total: 26/50

5th – The Kentish Drovers, Peckham

Time of visit: Saturday evening

Ambience: A good mixture of the locale: Young and old, black and white, men and women. A woman sits alone knitting, giving the place the feel of a front room. The young’uns get louder as they build up to a night elsewhere. At least, I hope they are building up to a night elsewhere. Actually quieter than I expected for a Saturday night, but it’s only 7pm. Maybe it’s bedlam at 11pm. 6/10

Premises: A small-ish entrance on Peckham High Street gives way to a long, rather handsome booze hall. 7/10

Ale selection: Three guest ales on. 4/10

Service: Service great. Good fun and patient with me when my card was declined. 7/10

Outside space: A small terrace at the back, through the conservatory, with a view across a square through iron bars. 4/10

Total: 28/50

=3rd – The Banker’s Draft, Eltham

Time of visit: Friday late afternoon

Ambience: Most like a proper local on this list, with everyone appearing to know each other. An older crowd, most seats taken and very lively. Fun, even. 9/10

Premises: A red brick corner plot and the smallest interior on this list which may aid the cosy and convivial feel. 7/10

Ale selection: Four guest ales. 5/10

Service: Service average. 5/10

Outside space: Just a few tables out on the pavement. (On my visit a homeless girl was sitting at one of them, looking nervous and clutching a bag of her possessions. Someone bought her a pint.) 3/10

Total: 29/50

=3rd – The Moon and the Stars, Penge

Time of visit: Monday early evening

Ambience: Busy, chatty. Not a single person without a grey hair. 6/10

Premises: Linear settlement, hint of Art Deco, cracking carpet. 4/10

Ale selection: The widest and finest seen on this noble quest. This Spoons has, unsurprisingly, earned a listing in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide 2019. 9/10

Service: Two women, smiling and helpful, vied with each other to serve us. 8/10

Outside space: Rear terrace beside Sainsbury’s, overlooking the car park. 2/10

Total: 29/50

2nd – The Fox on the Hill, Camberwell

Time of visit: Tuesday late afternoon

Ambience: Lively with a mixed crowd and lots of young people in (a back to Uni gathering?). 7/10

Premises: A large purpose-built pub that somehow manages to be at once cavernous and warren-like. Nice booths and decent conservatory. 5/10

Ale selection: Four guest ales to supplement the core offering, including two local breweries. 6/10

Service: With long queues at every till, this pub is a victim of its popularity when the sun’s out. Or rather, we are. 2/10

Outside space: Possibly the finest pub garden in South London, with views up to the river and across to Ruskin Park. 10/10

Total: 30/50

1st – The Capitol, Forest Hill

Time of visit: Tuesday evening

Ambience: A warming hubbub fills the vast interiors of this ex-cinema in which, upon entering, you feel like you have both arrived and disappeared at the same time. Features a broad cross section of Forest Hill life: Students, artists, drunks, professionals and retirees. 7/10

Premises: The finest Spoons premises in SE London, with classic Art Deco styling and a sensational booze altar. Worth a trip in itself. 10/10

Ale selection: Seven guest ales on offer. 8/10

Service: Efficient service, possibly aided by the mysterious occasional formation of a booze queue that snakes back from the bar. 6/10

Outside space: Smokers can enjoy some time out to the side of the building, and round the back you can get up to whatever you want. Extra point for that. 5/10

Total: 36/50

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Further reading: For more in-depth reviews (and SE London Spoons outside the SE London postcode) see the wonderful World of Spoons

More on the Raider’s tour of duty in this podcast:

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