The Earl Spencer is a local institution, and one of south west London’s best known pubs. Like the Ship it’s somewhere that everyone appears to know. My old boss, who now lives in Winchester would wax lyrically about the Sunday afternoons that he spent lingering over a pint and a roast, back when he lived closer to Southfields rather than the south coast.
Despite its proximity to my house, only about 300 yards down the road, the Earl Spencer is not a pub myself or the delightful dining companion (DDC) have frequented that much. This is not through us deciding to avoid it, more simply that despite its nearness, we are lucky to have other pubs that are even nearer.
It did seem to me though that a pub with such a lofty reputation deserved to be reviewed, and so I went about reserving a table. Looking at the website today I can see that you now have to call the pub up to book a table, when I booked which was only a couple of weeks ago you had to go through the site and were only offered a choice of two sittings 7:00 pm or 8:30. I went for an 8:30 reservation on a Thursday. After much anticipation the Thursday night in question finally rolled around and myself and the DDC made out way up the road to see whether the reality lived up to expectations.
The pub itself is situated on what is a rather unlovely section of Merton Road. Unusually it’s virtually next door to another pub, the Gardener’s and situated opposite Joe Macari, the classic car showroom. This gives you the opportunity to window shop for the car of your lottery winning dreams whilst you linger over a pint before your tables ready.
The building itself is in fact very similar to the Gardener’s next door, to my untutored eye I’d guess it was late 19th or very early 20th century (the website say’s Edwardian so well guessed on my part,) and whilst in no way being an eyesore, it’s also fairly undistinguished, though we are of course to be grateful that it’s still a pub. The entrance is decorated with details of all the accolades that the pub has won, from the Evening Standard’s pub of the year, through to more recent tributes from the likes of Michelin and the Sunday times.
The interior was busy and atmospheric, and to be honest with the amount of people dining felt more like a restaurant than a pub. The decoration is sort of a smart neutral, tending more to whites and pale blues, giving it a classy but slightly cold air, which was offset by the number of diners. When we arrived our table had some non-diners sitting on it, and neither myself nor the DDC really wanted to kick them off and so we had a drink at the bar.
We did manage to sit down at pretty much on the dot at 8:30, but had already perused that day’s menu pretty thoroughly. The DDC had chosen the French onion soup for starters, I was going to go for the smoked prawns as these appeared to be a house specialty, but changed my mind at the last minute to go for the ham, cheese and bone marrow croquets.
I have to say that these arrived pretty much the same second that the order went in, and we were both rather surprised by the swiftness. That being said they didn’t suffer with both my croquets and the DDC’s soup being judged excellent. To go along with dinner, we had ordered a viognier from what it is a good and reasonably priced wine list, and this I have to say was lovely.
As we were both hungry the food was dispatched pretty quickly and then we sat and waited with anticipation for our main courses. After a while nothing had turned up and so we sat and waited a bit more, and then some more until we both got rather tired of this and I went to ask where they were. When I did hunt the waiter down, it transpired that the order for the food had only just been put in, this was some 40 or minutes after the starters had been cleared away.
Eventually after about another quarter of an hour the main courses arrived. The DDC had opted for the seabass, whilst I had gone for the guinea fowl. The DDC declared the sea bass to be light and flavourful. My guinea fowl was also very good, but here I was rather distracted by how long it had taken to turn up.
Even at approaching 10 pm, the pub was still busy, though still mainly with diners. This is why I entitled this article a case of identity. It was Laura, the DDC who pointed this out that the place seemed more like a restaurant laid out like a pub, and I have to agree. Yes it is technically a pub, where you can pop in for a drink, but unless you’re prepared to sit outside you’re unlikely to get a seat.
The food was undeniably good, tasty, well presented and filling and as we could see varied. To me though it was very good, not great and whilst worth the money we paid, not worth any more than that. What I think I’m trying to say here is that you won’t be disappointed, but you won’t be overawed either. So the question is, would I go again? Well yes of course, but I probably wouldn’t choose it over trying somewhere new.
The bill for two with pre dinner drinks, starters, main courses, wine and an after dinner drink came to about £100 so pretty much restaurant prices. Well that’s enough for today, next time I look forward to telling you about some of the best value food you can get in the area, and also our view on the local pub quiz circuit.
THE EARL SPENCER
260-262 Merton Road