They’re not a fancy establishment, but pack a punch well above their weight as far as the cooking and flavours go.
You’d think booking a table for a rainy Tuesday evening at a pub in South East London would be simple, but if you’re trying your luck for The Mayflower in Rotherhithe Street, then you’d best be prepared to book well in advance.
There’s been a pub there, although not in this format, for centuries. It’s not called The Mayflower without good reason – it is named after the famous ship that sailed from the pub itself to pick up the Pilgrim Fathers on the south coast for their journey to Massachusetts. The Master of that arduous voyage is buried somewhere in the churchyard across the road, although they’ve lost track of the body over the years.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; it screams ‘tourist trap’ and you wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. But don’t panic. It’s an intimate and cosy pub with a welcoming atmosphere and no sign of any premade-microwave-ready meals.
Whoever renovated it in the twentieth century from the previous utilitarian format did a splendid job. As you enter the pub, you’re transported to an earlier century without the décor feeling ham-handed or like that of a theme park.
Upstairs, the dining room overhangs The Thames. The full-width leaded glass windows provide spectacular views, somewhat reminiscent of enjoying a meal in the Master’s cabin of a fluyt.
However, first impressions count, and on arriving in the dining room I was somewhat underwhelmed by our welcome. In fact there was no one there to greet us and on catching someone’s attention we found they had no record of our booking. To their credit with a little reorganisation they squeezed us in.
The pub downstairs has a reasonable range of beers, lagers, ales and spirits, although they are a little light on the stouts. The wine list is adequate and has something to suit most tastes. I chose a large glass of Tarquino – Shiraz/Malbec, which isn’t too heavy, but has bursts of fruity and spicy flavours. My companion for the evening had a pint of Staropramen, which they have on tap.
The food at The Mayflower is quite hearty so in the hopes of making it through the meal to enjoy a decadent dessert we ordered a side order of warm ciabatta with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. The bread is as light as a feather and is complimented by, from what I assume by its flavour, is organic extra virgin olive oil. If you’re not a fan of dipping bread into vinegar and oil then there’s also a baked Camembert you could share.
The menu changes seasonally; items are swapped out every few weeks with only the stalwarts like fish and chips, sausage and mash and various pies remaining. There’s also a blackboard of daily specials available. There are plenty of options to satiate any type of protein craving, be you a carnivore, omnivore or herbivore. They also have some gluten-free options on the menu.
My companion, as usual, ordered the chargrilled Herefordshire fillet steak served with chips, Parmesan salad and Béarnaise sauce. He picks it every time because it’s “the best steak” he’s had in London at this price range. The meat is tender and cooked to perfection, and, more importantly, this has been consistent across every visit.
After some agonising, I settled on the duck breast, mashed potato and spiced braised cabbage. I’m one of those diners who needs all my senses tingled. The smell and sight of the dish told a story with promises of great things to come. My taste buds were not disappointed. The duck, sauce and mash were tender and sweet – cut through by the tart spiciness of the cabbage. Yum.
I ended the meal with sticky toffee pudding – which seduced one of my American friends when she tried it – it’s all it is meant to be naughty and decadent. The vanilla ice-cream to cut through some of the deliberate stodginess. My companion had three scoops of homemade sorbet; two raspberry and one lemon, tucked in a brandy snap basket. As he polished off the entire pudding at speed he exclaimed: “How did they manage to pack so much flavour into it.”
There are a lot of overpriced gastro-pubs out there that will serve you up substandard food – luckily The Mayflower isn’t one of those. It has its flaws, but that’s OK. If you’re looking for a homely pub with a genuine old world atmosphere that inspires good conversation and provides for a relaxed and convivial evening, then this is somewhere you might want to consider.
The Mayflower, 117 Rotherhithe St, London SE16 4NF
Contact: 020 7237 4088 http://themayflowerrotherhithe.com/
Price: 3 courses and drinks £65.56