An evening at Herne Hill’s The Commercial
Remember the good old days when pubs were just blokes, beers, fags, pork scratchings and scantily clad page 3 women advertising peanuts?
Back in the good/bad old days (delete as appropriate), The Commercial – yes we do sometimes extend beyond the boundaries of Brixton to its leafier neighbourly suburb – was such a place. Populated mostly by sweary red-faced portly Irishmen on the wrong side of daily alcohol intake guidelines. We’d turn up and nurse a cheeky budget “half” through two halves of whatever footie Sky was showing.
That was then but this is now and many years later, through various incarnations, The Commercial has embraced gastropub. But not completely sold its boozer soul to sourdough breads and artisan dining.
I like its blended schizophrenic feel. To the left, friendly pub including guys (and their pints) who don’t look like they are here for focaccia. To the right, winers, diners and cosy “village” romantics. All dressed up in fairly template, pleasing gastropub trimmings. Farmhouse tables, slouchy sofas and retro photography.
There’s all-day gastro fare, steamy Sunday roasts, real and boutique ales with funny names and a decent wine list. Perfectly fine for a Tuesday night catch-up with an old friend. And as an occasional vinyl-hunting visitor to Herne Hill’s Sunday market, I may have to try the Sunday roast.
There is a familiar stable of staple gastropub dishes – beer battered fish and chips, homemade burger, sausage and mash. Comfortable classic friendly pub comfort food, alongside less homespun flourishes … beef carpaccio & celeriac remoulade? Pecorino stuffed guinea fowl?
So Connie and I, between French election chat (she’s from over there), the perils of secondary school teaching and early morning Lido lane wars, tucked into Korean chicken wings and salt and pepper squid in sesame dressing.
As someone who has had issues cooking squid (once involving three fire engines, but that’s another story), the squid was crisp, still tender and nicely balanced with sesame. Connie, meanwhile, demonstrated there is no elegant way to eat ever-so-sticky spicy Korean glazed wings with daikon, pickles and sweet chilli sauce.
The wine list is good and fairly wallet friendly. We start with a smoothly intense Argentinian El Bar Malbec (£22.00).
This being one of those borderline chilly pre-summer evenings, I happily voted for the venison and bacon pie. Good, old fashioned meaty fare (one of those cheaty pies with no bottom) beneath a puff pastry lid, a rich indulgent gravy, slow cooked venison and, in the only duff note, some rather industrial carrots on the side. Connie, probably mindful of the next morning’s Lido session, went for a Chicken Caesar salad, crispy Romaine lettuce, shaved parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes…. you know the score.
As I suspect you are discovering dear reader, I don’t do desserts, so for “pud”, the middle-class winos that we are, we jumped from Malbec to a fruity Tondeluna Rioja (by the glass).
I am nowhere near a high-fallutin’ food reviewer but I can imagine those that are occasionally want to escape foams, smokers and sous vide and sneak back to basics and home-style cooking. The Commercial is as good a place as any to do so and if you want to get a bit cheffier, they do a bit of that too. Or just enjoy a friendly pint and some less sexist peanuts.
212 Railton Road, SE24 0JT | 020 7733 8783 | thecommercialhernehill.co.uk | @CommercialSE24