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A Hippo in Waterloo – The Duke of Sussex:
I was hoping that I’d find some link between the Duke of Sussex and the Battle of Waterloo or even the station. In fact, the only connection I can find between the Duke and Waterloo was that he was one of the subscribers to an epic poem by William Whitehead about the battle. The pub has a chequered history as a local hostelry and although I know the area quite well, it’s not a place I’d ever visited.
However, my justification for visiting The Duke of Sussex pub was that one of my favourite independent pub groups (Geronimo) was acquired by Youngs a few years ago in 2010. I’ve been to a few Geronimo pubs recently and not much has changed as yet. It does make me apprehensive though when what I perceive as a personal touch is lost. As is often the case, however, the Geronimo founders, Rupert and Jo Clevely couldn’t sit still for too long and the Duke of Sussex is one of their newly remodelled gastropubs.
They have set themselves the task of developing a small group of ‘community pubs’ in London under the group name of ‘Hippo’. In doing so they to have managed to pick some of the pubs I’d never have wanted to set foot in and already made them rather special. The Lillie Langtry in Fulham, for example, was one of my locals but, the kind of place I’d skirt nervously around rather than ever set foot in. And, the Colton Arms near Barons Court just didn’t seem to have a purpose.
Waterloo has always suffered from that ‘transient visitors’ challenge, with far too many fast food chains for my liking. There are a few good pubs there already (the Anchor and Hope for example, which you can’t book except on a Sunday and where there’s always a queue) and there are places like Cyrus Todiwalla’s Goan restaurant Assado which I’m happy to drop into if I’m in the mood, but nothing I’d generally go out of my way for. The menu and wine list at the Duke of Sussex looked very promising. Nevertheless, I went along with a little curiosity and rather lower expectations.
Inside, the stripped wood floor and quirky furnishings had all the markings of a gastropub. The layout meant there were nooks and crannies for those who wanted an intimate experience and an open, more traditional bar area for those who wanted to socialise. There was a charming private room upstairs too.
With a schedule that didn’t allow for a three-hour lunch break we decided to skip starters in favour of dessert at the end. And, we asked for wine by the glass, letting our helpful server suggest for us. With my flat iron steak, he suggested a glass of Bourgogne Pinot Noir Henri di Villamont, 2014 while my companion, who had ordered hake was offered a glass of Picpoul de Pinet, Sel et de Sable, 2015. I’ve since discovered that Rupert himself was the Sales and Marketing Director for Veuve Cliquot in a previous life and that his father, a master of wine, looks after the wine lists for the pubs. Perhaps not surprising then, that there are so many good wines on offer by the glass.
The hake sounded good on paper and on the plate it looked amazing. My companion told me, it was perfectly cooked and he looked suitably impressed as he tucked in. Char-grilled hake with braised baby gem, peas and salsa verde, all beautifully garnished. This wouldn’t have been out of place on a fine dining menu, but for the substantial portion size.
My flat iron steak was rare, as requested, and had been carefully cooked and rested so that it wasn’t dried out. The peppercorn butter was a simple dressing of melted butter infused with peppercorns. The hand cut chips were just so. Flat iron if you haven’t tried it, is one of a range of new to this country steak cuts which allows us to eat steak for around half the price. Cut from the shoulder of the animal, flat iron is tender, meaty and with a similar texture to Sirloin. It can be tricky to cook and, done badly, it’s as tough as boot leather. Here it was almost as buttery as fillet, but with just a little more bite.
Dessert wasn’t really necessary, but it was just too tempting to miss out on the Chocolate Tart with Raspberry Sorbet
and the shortbread lemon posset with meringue.
Alongside our puds we were served a complimentary glass of what is happily called ‘pudding wine’ on the menu. ‘La Fleur d’Or, Sauternes’
All in, we were both impressed with the atmosphere and the food at the Duke of Sussex. I’ll definitely be back – the prices are reasonable and the quality of the food and wine excellent. In fact, it’s the sort of place which makes me wish I worked in the area – sandwiches with skin on fries are on offer from £7.00 and the lunchtime quickie two-course menu is just £10
23 Baylis Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7AY
Disclosure: We dined as guests of The Duke of Sussex