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Exploring pubs … and a restaurant… in Wapping

In this fifth look at pubs which can be easily reached on the East London Line, we travel to Wapping, a mere twenty minutes from Sydenham station. This may well be the jewel of the East London Line, since it features no fewer than three classic riverside pubs. All are open at lunchtimes as well as evenings.

From the station, walk east along Wapping High Street until you come
to the Prospect of Whitby (57 Wapping Wall, E1W 3SH). This legendary
Victorian pub (named after a sailing ship) reeks of history inside
and has a terrace and a courtyard overlooking the Thames. Don’t miss
the chance to walk down the passage beside the pub, go down onto
the beach (not recommended at high tide) and admire the rear
of the pub. Several real ales are offered.

prospect of whitby

Retrace your steps and head away from the river to the
White Swan and Cuckoo (97 Wapping Lane E1W 2RW). This
circa 1920s pub does a very good salt beef sandwich but their
Courage Best was mediocre. Even worse, the lovely old wood
panelling had all been painted white in a misguided attempt to
‘brighten up’ the pub, thereby losing all cosiness. Publicans please
note: pubs do not need ‘brightening up’.

white swan & cuckoo

Back on the river front and slightly west is the wonderful
Captain Kidd (108 Wapping High St, E1W 2NE). The pleasingly
dark and atmospheric interior gives every appearance of being
ancient but in fact the pub is of relatively recent vintage, having
been built in the 1980s. There are splendid river views, and
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter sells at a very reasonable
£2.11 a pint.

captain kidd

Head further west still and you will reach the Town of
Ramsgate (62 Wapping High Street, E1W 2PN), a properly
traditional pub offering a cosy atmosphere and a rear courtyard
overlooking the river, as well as several real ales. This excellent
pub is well worth a visit (or two).

town of ramsgate

This crawl ends, uncharacteristically, with a recommendation
to visit an alcohol-free establishment. Head a few yards ‘inland’
to the Turk’s Head Café, (1 Greenbank, E1W 2QD), a former
pub which was saved from demolition when local residents
bought it and turned it into a popular café. It is worth seeing for
its dramatic tiled exterior and impressive Taylor Walker signage
dating from Victorian times: it is a reminder of how wonderful
so many back-street boozers used be, and how sad it is that so
many are now gone.

turk's head cafe

Neil Pettigrew, Pub Preservation Officer, South East London
CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale)

And now for a Wapping restaurant….

From the station platform a lift takes you up to street level.
Turn right out of the station, following the north bank of the
river, you come to Wapping Wall, part tarmac, part cobbled.
It’s pretty much residential; still some Wharf buildings
remain untouched. It’s quiet, literally quiet. I know exactly
where I am taking you.

However there are treasures to be found. The Prospect of
Whitby is one, which Neil, has told you about above. Opposite
the Prospect of Whitby, on Wapping Wall,is the amazing Wapping
Hydraulic Power Station, housing The Wapping Project and I want
to take you inside. It’s an original power station and it is literally
all still there. It is many things: arestaurant, dining space,
gallery and a place of beauty.

wapping project

The building is in two parts. The large grey doors open into
a long narrow hall, full height windows along one side. The bar
has high stools with picture books and magazines to browse.
The bar runs the full length of the building with an open plan
kitchen at the far end. The rest of the space, and there really is
space, is laid out with smart black tables and white chairs.
Brick arches separate the other side of the building, which
houses all the old equipment. You sit amongst the huge green
hydraulic equipment. Chains, cranes, huge fuse boxes, pipes, all
the workings of the station are there to be seen, as you drink or
dine or do both. Mind the huge chain and hook hanging at the top
of the stairs that take you down to the underground bathrooms.

It’s lit beautifully in the day by natural light and in the evening
with candles and a perfect red glow, with background modern
music. The gallery space in an adjacent room, also houses a small
cinema. A spiral staircase leads to the roof for a river view.
So what can you eat? Well, you can pop in for coffee (they
also sell coffee beans), a good range of teas, desserts (pear
crumble with amaretto custard, nice), have a drink (Connemara
Peated Irish Single Malt) or come for brunch, lunch or dinner.

You won’t be disappointed with anything. They serve
brunch between 10 and 12.30, lunch between 12 and 3.30
and dinner from 7 to 11. Ham Hock terrine, Hare Saddle
with swede and carrot mash will set you back around £25. It’s
not an everyday place, but for something special, it is special.

Service is polite, efficient and friendly.
There is also a small but very cosy bookshop in a glasshouse
out front warmed by a wood-burning stove where readings and
special events are held.

Jonathan S Clarke