What was once the Gipsy Hill Tavern, a rather raucous Irish pub where the good times rolled, has been reinvented as The Great Southern Pub & Kitchen. Could it be your new local?
Words: Paloma Lacy
Few things excite me more than new pub openings. The death of the British pub is permanently on the news agenda but it seems to me that as one door closes, another opens, quite literally.
The role of the pub is as important today as it ever was, and it remains at the heart of the community. Whether it’s a quick update on local gossip, somewhere to take the family for a meal or a welcoming place to escape the rigours of family life, a good pub has it all.
It was with options one and three in mind that I hopped on a train, a six-minute schlep from Streatham Hill to Gipsy Hill, and bounded into The Great Southern Pub & Kitchen to meet my school friends for dinner.
Open a little while, I was reliably informed that it sits on the former site of the Gipsy Hill Tavern. One of my group suggested the predecessor was a little shabby around the edges and that she’d only popped in to use the loo, finding herself caught short after alighting at the station.
This incarnation is somewhat different, with its bright, open spaces, and on-trend interior. Not only exposed brickwork but sheets of corrugated metal slapped on the walls for good measure. Bringing the outside inside strangely goes a long away in creating a warm atmosphere.
Reasons for visiting a pub change as you get older and long leisurely stays that start at opening time and end once the bell goes are a thing of a past. Oh how times have changed.
These days, I have three varying requirements: dinner with the family to escape the drudgery of daily kitchen duties, date night with my husband, and catching up with friends. I’m pleased to say The Great Southern is up to each and every one of these challenges.
‘Reasons for visiting a pub change as you get older and long leisurely stays that start at opening time and end once the bell goes are a thing of a past’
In an attempt to convince ourselves that it was still summer, Gin & Tonic seemed the way to go and we were, very easily, persuaded by our amiable host Jack that we should each try a different gin.
This was of course music to our ears and our interpretation was that we would each get to try four gins. The clear favourite was home-made lemon sherbet, with Jensen’s gin, elderflower cordial and tonic – super fresh, zingy and downright drinkable.
Other G&T combos included: That Boutique-y Spit-Roasted Pineapple Gin and ginger beer; Tarquin’s Gin, red grapefruit and tonic; and finally, Hedgehog Gin by Ron De Jeremy with salty lemon tonic. I wish we’d discovered The Great Southern months ago, what a summer it would have been.
And so to the menu, which at first glance is disappointing but I quickly realised that this is largely because so many pubs are going all out to impress both diner and drinker alike and so expectations have increased. However, after consideration, I realised the menu is solid, not hugely surprising, but one you can rely on.
There was a level of honesty to the menu, openly stating a specialisation in burgers, pies and pizzas and one of each made their way to our table. There are no official starters, but instead small dishes to share or bar snacks.
The deal is two for £7, three for £10 or four for £14. We sensibly went for four to share: poppin chicken with Cajun mayo dip, falafel bites with vegan mayo and chilli dip; mac and cheese bites with sweet chilli dip; and crudités with vegan mayo and caper dip. The outcome – moderately successful.
‘The modern day pub will be judged on more than its drinks alone and the humble burger is right up there with things it must get right to attract repeat business’
I loved the poppin chicken, mostly because it feels so wrong to eat Southern fried chicken, and it was indeed delicious. Falafel was a little on the dry side, and mac and cheese bites probably needed to be a little larger, with a more discernable macaroni filling.
The modern day pub will be judged on more than its drinks alone and the humble burger is right up there with things it must get right to attract repeat business.
I’m therefore happy to report hunters chicken burger was a fine and towering example of how to do it right. A juicy, chargrilled chicken breast, piled high with bacon, cheese and BBQ sauce and held together with a semi-sweet brioche bun, and it received a massive thumbs up from everyone – even those who didn’t take a bite, liked the look of it alone.
Best of all were the hand-cut chips, no two looking the same but every single one cooked to golden perfection. The only improvement I could make was to slather them in salt and lashings of vinegar.
Pizzas were as we’ve all come to expect and as the Italians originally intended them to be – fresh dough, rolled thinly and cooked to crispy. Pies will no doubt appeal now the weather is getting chillier but my almost-vegetarian friend gave the root veg pie and creamy mash a go and was glad she did.
Dessert wasn’t really on the agenda for us but it was still pleasing to see options other than the ubiquitous chocolate brownie – which will surely go down as the pudding of the last decade – in the shape of coconut and chocolate torte. We did need something sweet, and a Porn Star Martini hit just that spot nicely.
The pub also hosts a range of events, from a weekly Monday night quiz to a Saturday market and ad-hoc events, like a vegan cheese and beer pairing evening.
For so many reasons, one of which is the menu, if I lived in walking distance, I’d happily make this my local.
79 Gipsy Hill, Upper Norwood SE19 1QH; thegreatsouthernpub.co.uk