Despite its distinguished maritime history, Greenwich has always been regarded as a culinary backwater. But the opening of the Old Brewery under head chef Daniel Doherty could change that.
The Old Brewery is a new restaurant, café, bar and microbrewery, owned by London brewer Meantime. It is within touching distance of a focal point of the area's heritage - the imposing stone quadrants and cupolas of the Old Royal Naval College, designed by Sir Christopher Wren - so it probably comes as no surprise that it is the themes of seafaring and brewing that Doherty, a 25-year-old former scholar of the Academy of Culinary Arts, has attempted to tap into. The seafaring theme manifests itself primarily in an abundance of seafood on the menu.
But is the beer that is probably most in evidence. While the food is classic English in style, there are frequent brewing-led touches, like the starter of chicory, goat's cheese and beetroot salad with malted barley (£6), which combines the soft, creamy cheese with a malty crunch of barley. The Scottish salmon with watercress and horseradish starter (£6.50) is cured in Meantime IPA, while the lemon tart with Kentish hop meringue (£5) takes advantage of the bitter, citrus notes of one of beer's main ingredients.
"I am just trying to go about it in different ways to other people so that we are not just doing beef and ale pie. We want to be a little bit quirky about it," Doherty explains.
But the restaurant's top seller is the Meantime pale ale braised neck of Herdwick mutton with purple sprouting broccoli, ratte potatoes, anchovy and parsley jus (£14.50).
"We marinate the mutton for a good couple of days in the pale ale," Doherty says. "We chose pale ale because of the real strength of hop that goes really well with the spicy richness of the mutton."
The reformed meat is accompanied by what is essentially two veg, to give a rich, unpretentious dish that is clearly a hit with the customers.
Diners can drink wine with their meals if they like but the menu itself pushes them firmly in the direction of one of the 50 beers stocked at the Old Brewery. Each starter, main course and dessert (bar a few) is accompanied by a recommendation of a beer to match it. For example, the confit middle white pork terrine, crispy pig's ear, apple sauce and granary toast (£6) is paired with the fruity banana and clove notes of Meantime's Wheat Beer.
If the food does its best to remind you that you're in a brewery, then the decor won't let you forget. Aside from the fact that the main dining room is dominated by eight 1,000-litre copper-clad tanks, most of the tables in the 65-seat restaurant sit below a huge, undulating "beer chandelier" suspended from the ceiling. The chandelier, which helps to foster a feeling of intimacy in the warehouse-sized space, is made up of 2,000 brown Meantime bottles. It is shot through with coloured spotlights, lending the whole place a warm, beery glow, which is aided by heavy wooden booths and doorframes and an orange, red and brown colour scheme for the wallpaper and upholstery.
The atmosphere is probably less alcoholic during the day, when the restaurant acts as a café, catering to between 400 and 500 people. And the eaterie also benefits from a large riverside beer garden, which can hold up to 170 people for lunch. All of that places a pretty heavy demand on the brigade of eight chefs and eight kitchen porters, as well as Doherty himself, who currently puts himself through a gruelling 15-hour day to ensure that food is served at a consistently high quality.
But the effort should be worth it. Aside from the fact that Greenwich is blessed with hordes of hungry tourists in the daytime, its well-to-do residents and the wealthy Canary Wharf types from directly across the river are likely to be grateful for an upmarket restaurant in this part of town.
"We want to give tourists something that is good quality at a fair price," says Doherty. "But at the same time we want the Greenwich residents to feel that it is purely theirs in the evening."
The early signs are good and at this rate the Old Brewery may well help repair the area's culinary reputation.
http://www.oldbrewerygreenwich.com" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">The Old Brewery
The Pepys Building
The Old Royal Naval College
London SE10 9LW
Tel: 0203 327 1280
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
Half/dozen Colchester native oysters with Meantime London stout, £17/£34
Devilled whitebait with caper mayonnaise, £4.50
Home pickled herrings with spring vegetables & Cornish mussel dressing, £6.50
Poached duck eggs with spinach, Jerusalem artichokes & marjoram cream, £10.50
Fillets of Dorset plaice with potato & spring onion hash, razor clams, caper & parsley butter, £14.50
Roasted fillet of hake with leeks & fennel, Cornish crab broth, £14.50
Hot chocolate fondant, Jersey clotted cream ice-cream, chocolate malt crunch, £5.50
Sticky toffee pudding with Meantime Hospital Porter, served with cream, £5
Selection of British and European cheeses with crackers & homemade beer chutney, £8