Hare & Billet

Hare & Billet Road, SE3

Many times had I passed this ancient-looking pub on the heath, never had I entered it. It looked fantastic from the outside; a local pub for well-heeled regulars, across the road from a willow-fringed village pond, surrounded by dinky mis-matched houses, each of equal charm if not building style. Much of Blackheath, after all, could be some rustic village in the Home Counties if one didn’t know that Lewisham was a few streets one way, Kidbrooke a few streets the other. The Hare & Billet, dating back a couple of hundred years at least, is part of that olde English charm.

It was an early Sunday afternoon. I was certainly right about the regulars. This isn’t a pub for tourists or out-of-towners. Not that it’s unfriendly – the vibe’s perfectly pleasant – but people keep to themselves, reading the paper or chatting quietly. At least no one looked at us as we walked in – if a piano had been playing, it would have continued. That I can’t remember whether there was music or not means at least that if there was it wasn’t of an offfensive level.

It’s rather self-consciously ‘unreconsitituted’ – wooden floors and simple painted walls – where we sat a large chunk of ceiling covering was missing – presumably the result of a flood. No one had bothered redecorating and it didn’t seem to matter. It fitted in rather well with the wooden bookcase and the darts board. I don’t get the feeling that people play darts there very much – not necessarily because they’re not very good (there were lots of holes around the board, especially underneath it…) – more that I’d wager it’s that gauntlet walk from the kitchen in direct firing line of said board.

We’d actually come in for food, but despite a number of notices all over the place announcing the food, menus on the tables and our being there well within the time speicified, the kitchen was closed. Some kind of crisis, they told us. Fair enough – these things happen. We settled for drinks instead. The beer’s absolutely fine – a good, sturdy selection and a pleasant place to drink it. Absolutely no complaints. Then came the wine.

Now there are people who would argue that wine has no place in an English pub and even having the choice of red or white is a concession too far. And they may have a point. But if you’re going to move with the times and actually have wine in a – let’s face it – posh area, and charge upwards of a fiver for a glass of it (some glasses were well over six quid) then personally I’m going to expect something a bit more exciting than supermarket crap. These were all the usual suspects – unexciting boggo plonk that you really can get in Sainsburys for £3.99 a bottle.

My glass of tempranillo was hideous – and believe me, I can put away virtually anything that isn’t battery acid. I even – gulp – considered not finishing it, but one thought of how much I’d just paid for the glass sitting in front of me (and, of course, plain greed) meant that I did actually drink it. (And no – it wasn’t off. )I didn’t try anything else, though my beer-drinking companions had a whale of a time. We stayed longer than we expected – the atmosphere is good – then went off in search of something to eat, rather sad that we hadn’t managed to sample any of the fare there.

Overall, though, this is a decent, traditional pub, which probably doesn’t ever get as hideously packed as, say the Princess of Wales or that horrid O’Neills in Tranquil Vale, even in summer – a local pub for local people. It’s snug and cosy in winter – every table seems to be a good one. And in summer, the little area around the pond must be lovely – and more interesting than the general flatness of most of the heath. To be honest, I’m not going to be making many pilgrimages back there until they discover the delights of Theatre of Wine, Nicolas – or even Oddbins – but I suspect they won’t be shedding many tears at the thought of losing me…

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