Pubs To Love: Royal Oak, Southwark, London

Standing outside Borough Tube station in South London, it's hard to imagine that Southwark was once a powerhouse of English brewing. The mighty Anchor Brewery, once the capital's largest, has long gone. The last edifices of the hop trade can still be seen if you know where to look, the now-converted warehouses and the majestic sweep of the Hop Exchange. But beer still has a presence here; on a back street that was once a medieval thoroughfare into the capital, there's a corner pub that preserves the very essence of straightforward, non-nonsense London drinking.

Dwarfed by apartment towers, the Royal Oak squats on the corner of Tabard Street and Nebraska Street and revels in its glories. The only Harveys pub in London, this two-room pub was revitalised in the nineties and has become the very definition of what I love about a city boozer. High ceilings and expansive etched windows lend an airy feel to the main bar. Floorboards are muffled by loose carpets. The bow-shaped carved bar bulges into the second smaller, tighter room, lined with solid benches and random cushions.

And those Harvey’s beers - the seasonal offerings are always tempting and I have a keen taste for their Mild but it’s the Sussex Best Bitter that I could sup all day: clean malts, lithe hops and the kind of balance only otherwise achieved by an angel pirouetting on a pin-head. By itself, it’s legendary; with a proper suet pudding and a mountain of mashed potato it becomes other-worldly. The food here is rib-stickingly good; even the salt-beef sandwiches are of a size to tide a toper over on a long lingering lunch session. The eclectic mix of punters provide a fascinating soundtrack; here the atmosphere and character come from the customers rather than knick-knacks nailed to the walls.

The Royal Oak is a true bolt-hole away from the occasionally over-wrought beery madness elsewhere around Borough. It’s become my pub of choice with which to kick off a capital pub crawl. Maybe one day I’ll stay for an afternoon. There are worse things I could do...

Photo reproduced with permission from Ewan Munro on Flickr


  1. Turns into a three room pub on a sunday when they serve their delicious roast dinners and open up the room upstairs.

  2. Great post! It's a great pub too. We often take a short walk down the High Street from Borough Market for a pint or two.

  3. An excellent pub, although it's a while since I last visited it.

  4. I could quite seriously spend the day there. But I'd be worried about Sunday lunch, someone would have to roll me downstairs and off the the Tube afterwards...

  5. Marvelous pub. Total time spent there: One Hour. Still, it changed my opinion of what I want in a pub. Silence, for instance.