Knightsbridge is not about Harrods. It’s also about hidden public houses and a really nice amble. Just don’t expect to remember it all.
If you ever looked at Knightsbridge you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s rather staid. It’s not particularly exciting in any way possible. Apart from the architecture, which some people will laud and others will sneer at. Otherwise it’s all boutiques and boredom.
No, you need to look at South Kensington, Knightsbridge, and Belgravia in a very different way because there are some diamond-encrusted gems of the pub world in them thar back streets. What follows is a lovely crawl from the expansive environs dominated by the Natural History Museum and the V&A to the nooks and crannies of Belgravia. AKA Embassy Land and the Kingdom of Posh.
Starting point: South Kensington Underground station
Finishing point: Victoria train station
Length: 3.5 miles
There is something like a legend to this route as you might have noticed that there are pint glasses without numbers. Those are simply pubs that I wouldn’t really recommend simply because there are much better choices around, they aren’t needed. But if you so wish then who am I to stop you? The different shaped glasses you can ignore entirely.
We carried this out as a half pint challenge, the rules were as follows:
- Each person in the group takes turns choosing the half pint.
- EVERYONE has to drink the same thing or must resign themselves to a soft drink.
- When it’s your turn don’t pick something that will be disgusting, like a chocolate stout on special offer – it WILL be grim.
- Try to avoid repetition of choices (we managed that easily).
- You have 15 minutes to drink the half in each venue.
- You are not allowed to sit on any comfy chairs like leather sofas until you have drunk your half.
- No eating apart from bar snacks, after the first pub (The Hourglass). There isn’t time (pun not intended).
- No dawdling between venues.
We also had a non-drinker who we appointed as referee. Handily a London Pride beer mat is yellow on one side and red on the other. This means that the referee could flash a yellow or a red card to any participant deemed to have broken the rules. Just as in football two yellows equals a red, and that means exposure to the forfeit – A shot of Cointreau to be downed on the spot. My own stupid suggestion.
So there you have the foundations for this boozy jaunt.
We all gathered in pub 1, The Hourglass, which is a short walk east of South Kensington tube station, on Brompton Road, and somewhere I will heartily recommend for the delicious food that comes in nice big portions, and for the unusually pretty bar staff who are always lovely. I had a sneaky pre-crawl pint of lager, for some stupid reason. Then after lining our stomachs our first official round was the unexpected arrival of Aspall’s cider. One member of the group detests the taste but necked it in one anyway, good on him!
We tittered and told smutty anecdotes as we piled out of The Hourglass, turned left, and then left again down Draycott Avenue. Making sure I got a glimpse of the beautiful Bibbendum building just ahead. Take the 4th left which should be Mossop Street and you’ll see the Admiral Codrington – pub number 2. I used to work at an advertising agency mere seconds from this pub but somehow I never came here. Probably something to do with the meagre wages and 2 hour commute I had to endure. The Admiral Codrington is a really nice little place. The staff welcome you in and promptly serve you, though getting change on a steel dish in what is basically a normal boozer unsettles me. In our 15 minute visit we got to watch the barman perfecting a couple of beautiful cocktails for some other punters as we sipped our ales. I think this was Speckled Hen or maybe London Pride but I really can’t remember. This pub serves a well-regarded burger in a brioche bun. They charge a fair whack for it but it’s supposed to be very good. If someone can back that wild assertion up then please come to the fore and let me know in the comments!
I must note here that we didn’t have our ref at this point, she arrived later, but nobody had infringed yet.
It didn’t take long. We came out of the Codrington and walked up Mossop Street. We turned left into Hasker Street and once at the top we turned right onto Walton Street. Oops, we lost pub number 3 – The Enterprise. Not knowing whether we’d just made a navigational error or whether it had shut down we had to crop it out of our schedule. I now know that we should have turned up First Street rather than Hasker Street. If we’d done that we would have found the pub on the corner. And we had aimed to come here in part because it only serves ales in half pints – destiny calls!
Me and my co-organiser stood around on Walton Street taking abuse from the other participants and we just shrugged and carried on. Decisive action needed to be taken. Those half pints would soon wear off, more was needed. Onwards!
But not before one of our group announced that we would be yellow carded for this lapse. A tad harsh I thought, but ok. We nipped up Beaufort Street and turned left onto Brompton Road. Pub 4, the Bunch of Grapes awaited just a few metres ahead. Here we had to wait for the referee to arrive and so ended up having two halves in here, partly to make up for missing pub 3 as well. One semi-filthy beverage called London Glory that none of us enjoyed, and then either London Pride or Speckled Hen or Abbot Ale. I suspect the latter is more likely. As both Abbot and London Glory are produced by the Greene King brewery. This is an ok pub. It’s got nooks and crannies and plenty of seats. The staff are adequate and the location ok. All a bit ‘meh’ as the internet would say. As soon as our ref turned up I was officially yellow carded for my failure with pub 3. I took it on the chin and off we went again.
Come out of the Bunch of Grapes and head north back the way you came. Cross over Brompton Road at the first chance you get and continue north. Then turn left into Montpelier Street. Here you will find pub 5, the Tea Clipper. This is a nice pub really. Quite a laid back vibe. We had a half of Sagres lager here and a few bar snacks. The Bombay Mix and the wasabi peas were great but the candied nuts seemed a bit stale. We seemed to linger a little longer than we should have here, mainly due to the bar snacks and the fact that the group had splintered into three conversations. The cry went up for the crawlers to assemble and we rushed back out and onwards once more.
Back down Montpelier Street we went, left back onto Brompton Road, and then cross over in front of Harrods‘ imposing façade. There’s a crappy pub inside Harrods apparently but it’s also supposed to be over £5 for a pint so what’s the point? Keep going north and follow the curve around past Knightsbridge Underground station. If you’re interested the Jubilee Greenway path passes just north of here through Hyde Park, on the other side of the road. Cross over Sloane Street in front of Harvey Nichols department store and then head down Sloane Street. Pub 6, the Gloucester is on the left.
This one didn’t catch my attention, it was a bit boring and quiet. Poky, dark, too many ‘table-talkers’ (the upright cardboard advertising things you get in bars these days). I can’t even remember what I drank here. So, no worries if you fancied skipping this and moving right on past.
Turn left out the Gloucester, left onto Harriet Street, drunkenly ramble left around Lowndes Square, then nip right around the cylindrical Sheraton Park Hotel. You will now have to endure the horrific A4 for a brief moment until you turn right onto Wilton Place, take another quick right onto Kinnerton Street and you find this road contains pubs 7 and 8. First up is the Wilton Arms. A punter unconnected with our group came out the door grinning widely, perhaps she was crawling too?
The Wilton Arms is pretty nice. Enough space to seat our group and few other customers to annoy. Again I have no idea what we drunk here, I forgot to take notes and things begin to blur into each other about now. NO WAIT! Master Brew, that’s what I ordered here. This must have been a Shepherd Neame pub. Everyone thought it was a tasty pint so I’m pleased with that. I remember leaving this venue thinking ‘Well that was nice wasn’t it’ so it must have been alright.
But nowhere near as nice as pub 8, the Nag’s Head. This was my favourite discovery of the day by miles. It’s a just a few metres further down this silent cobbled street but somehow the group got splintered. It wasn’t my turn to order but the serenity inside and the expectant look on the face of the girl behind the minuscule bar forced me to do it. “I’ll have 6 halves of mdsfsdrewufwhei please.” I said. No I really can’t remember what I ordered here. I know it was an Adnams ale, and I know it wasn’t Broadside because I saw that and deliberately didn’t order it due to my familiarity with it. Photos suggest it could have been Gunhill though. Whatever it was I really enjoyed it, served in a proper old fashioned dimpled jug glass. The referee arrived. I was in trouble. I took my second yellow and took my Cointreau punishment with a straight face. At this stage of the day I didn’t want this, but my impetuous decision cost me dear again. These people, pah!
Anyway, the Nags Head is a really amazing little place. There’s a sign banning the use of mobile phones and a “What the butler saw” machine next to the bar. This means that when you give the barmaid an amount of money that I never saw, she will give you two pre-decimal coins so that you can view the peep show inside this wooden box. A bit of fun and very unique. There are model boats on the ceiling and small artworks adorning the walls. The only other two customers sat in silence as our raucous noise suddenly diminished, we’d clocked that the atmosphere was being ruined by us. Oops. I would have loved to stay here all day, but alas. I’m sure the old guy crouched over the bar was silently cursing us as he tried to burrow into his newspaper…
Continue down Kinnerton Street and turn left onto Motcomb Street. Cross straight over the curving Wilton Crescent and onto Belgrave Mews North. At the far end cross straight over and enter Wilton Row. Soon to see the steps heading up into pub 9 – the Grenadier. Here one of the group educated us on the unmissable drink of choice here, an incredible Bloody Mary. My mouth waters just remembering how good this was. I’m not usually one to drink these but that’s because they’ve never been done properly until now. WOW. They ain’t cheap at £39 for 6 but as a one off you just have to. We slinked into the street and admired the red sentry box outside whilst we sipped our delicious nutritious alcohol. We were all pretty tanked by now but this was the home straight. We were over 3/4 of the way through.
Back up Wilton Row and turn left until you meet Belgrave Square. Follow it round anti-clockwise until you can turn right into Halkin Place. You can see pub 10, the Star Tavern immediately ahead. This might have been a nice place. I don’t know. I have no memory of this place. I was deep in conversation and it passed me by…
So, head south down Belgrave Mews West, the German embassy is on your right. Turn left and cut across the bottom of Belgrave Square. Straight ahead onto Chapel Street and then after a few metres there’s an alley on the right. This cuts through the buildings and plops you out right next to the Horse & Groom on Groom Place. Pub 11. A couple of work colleagues were enjoying the evening sun here on the outdoor patio area so I don’t know what the interior was like. The outside was very nice though, another little gem hidden in backstreets just that bit too far for most people to venture to. I think it was a half of Peroni that I had here. There were poncy full pint glasses everywhere so I suspect that’s right.
With our two new additions we went south out of Groom Place and right onto Chester Street. Left onto Upper Belgrave Street and then all the way down to the junction with Ebury Street where we found pub 12, the Plumbers Arms. This was really busy, but it was Friday evening and the Germany vs. Greece match was about to kick off in Euro 2012. Everything was a blur by now but I do remember being underwhelmed by this venue. Still, we were all having a great time anyway.
Once we’d finished our drinks it was time to dissolve the fellowship and decide what to do next. Some went home. Others, me included, went down Lower Belgrave Street and into Victoria Station, which is the huge building you see from here. You can get the Victoria, Circle or District tube lines from here or you can catch trains and buses all over the place. We went in to the Wetherspoons pub and sat on the glass- enclosed balcony overlooking the Southern Trains concourse. One final half here and we all called it a night.
I slumped onto my train home with a Burger King meal and a very hazy head. It’s quite a large crawl even with half pints so after reading this feel free to crop out certain venues if you need to. Perhaps we needn’t have visited the Bunch of Grapes, Gloucester, or Star Tavern.
But you absolutely must see the Nag’s Head, and try the Bloody Mary at the Grenadier.