WANDLE WANDERER: Our non-resident rambler KEN TOWL is off on his travels again, but he hasn’t had to venture very far afield to discover some overlooked treasures
St Reatham is not, of course, a church named after a saint, but rather a lager named after a place.
St Reatham is the tongue-in-cheek rendering of Streatham, coined, it is thought, by overly inventive estate agents in the 1980s, when properties in the neighbourhood weren’t shifting quite as speedily as they would have liked. If “South Chelsea” could do the trick for Battersea, well…?
Streatham is first stop north from Croydon in our neighbouring borough of Lambeth, and St Reatham now is also one of a range of craft beers brewed up on Streatham Common in a large shed surrounded by trees and shrubs. I know this because I have just spent a morning mooching around the Common after orders from Inside Croydon Towers. Here’s why…
Another brewery, a somewhat larger one, Young’s, invited Inside Croydon and a friend to try the new menu at their recently renovated gastropub, the Manor Arms, just around the corner from the common. Very well, said iC HQ, take a friend, if you have one, and write a review, but make it part of a feature on the common. There is no such thing, it turns out, as a free lunch.
Fortunately it is easy to get to Streatham Common, just a few stops up the line from East Croydon on the slow train towards London Bridge. Don’t alight at Streatham Common Station, it is half a mile from the common. Instead, get off at the next station, Streatham.
As you leave the station, look to your right along Streatham High Road. That big green space on the other side of the road, past the war memorial? That’s Streatham Common. If you are looking for the Manor Arms, however, just turn left, then left again at Streatham Green (a very little green space) and that pub you see? That’s the Manor Arms.
I have declared an interest. And you will have to trust me. Young’s covered the cost of the meal and I guess they are looking for a quid pro quo quotable review in return. The thing is, it was great. Not cheap, but then, that’s the thing these days about the St Reatham nomenclature: it is a nod to the encroachment of gentrification.
Actually, you do not have to rely on my word for the quality of the meal. I took along a friend, Damien. And Damien is very reliable. He works in metals. I have no idea what that means, but he has the demeanour of someone you can trust.
In brief, we had: Crab and prawn mac’n’ cheese with crunchy chorizo crumbs on top (£7.50); Damien’s verdict: the crumb added texture and depth to the smooth blandness of the pasta’n’sauce. Devilled whitebait (£6.50), beautiful rust-coloured, dusted in paprika and with a chestnut aioli; verdict: memorable, shockingly good. Lamb shank shepherd’s pie with rainbow chard (£18); verdict: deep flavour and the chard cuts against the richness of the meat. And Chicken Kiev (£14), a perfect parmesan crust, generously filled with butter, parsley and garlic that added heft and sophistication to the cabbage, bacon and potatoes that lay underneath.
Our very attentive waiter (who turned out to be the assistant manager) generously (and indeed expertly) selected a bottle of La La Land, a soft pinot noir from Australia. At £32 it was near the top end of a list of reds, which are priced from £21 to £32.50.
That comes to £78 before the tip, but for a slightly less special occasion you could pair a £13 burger with a pint of Young’s bitter. It will, I am sure, be good – there is a chef, not a cook, in the kitchen. I am planning on trying the Sunday roasts some day soon. I quite like the sound of the West Country Sirloin of Beef which comes with an ox cheek croquette. In fact, all of the Sunday roasts come with double egg Yorkshire puddings, goose fat roast potatoes, maple glazed parsnips, carrot and swede mash, romanesco cauliflower cheese, rainbow chard and “proper gravy”. While the beef carries a £18 price tag, with that list of additions, you will not need to eat for a week.
After uploading so many calories, you may well feel like walking some of them off.
I would recommend a gentle stroll up the gradient of the common. At the top you will find the Rookery Café (open 9am to 5pm, seven days a week). They serve every shape of coffee that you can get in Italy and beyond. You will probably have to queue, due to the popularity of the place and the languid service that one associates with the serious barista. You can drink your coffee inside or out, and it is worth waiting for, well-balanced between freshness and chocolatey depth.
Behind the café is the Rookery itself, the jewel in the common’s crown.
Some of it is walled, all of it is well-tended and, sloping south as it does at the top of the hill that you have just climbed, it affords views across Croydon to the North Downs.
Towards the bottom of the Rookery, once the site of a spa where people would come to take the waters, is the White Garden, where all of the blooms, and even the benches, are the one colour.
Alongside this, and behind a wooden door in a brick wall, is the secret garden, these days occupied by the Streatham Common Community Gardeners, volunteers who sew and tend and reap vegetables and, at least while I was there, relax, drink tea and chat in the most convivial surroundings.
The big wooden door only opens between 11am and 3pm on Sundays and on Wednesdays, but during these times they are happy to invite visitors to see their work. I found them to be a friendly, community-spirited bunch and they are looking for volunteers to join them. You could do worse. They let me take some hops in exchange for a small donation. They had cavolo nero, raspberries, apples and yellow courgettes for sale, as well as habanero peppers.
The gardeners pointed out the brewery, which abuts their garden. I walked around to the entrance, but it was closed. The Inkspot Brewery has a website, but it gives little away. Locals tell us that at weekends over the summer, the brewery has been open, selling its beers and offering barbeques for customers, who sit around in the yard on bales of straw.
You can buy their beers in local outlets, such as the two Art and Craft micropubs on Streatham High Road or the one here in Croydon, you can get St Reatham lager in Art & Craft on Surrey Street. I noticed a couple of their distinctive cans in the Rookery café, too. Streatham High Road has come a long way since 2002 when it was named “Worst High Street in Britain” by no less an authority than the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment .
Just beyond the common, you stray on to Norwood Grove, more green space with views to the south and the west. You have managed to tip-toe back into Croydon, too.
At the centre of this is a manor house whose renovation, it turns out, was largely due to a philantropist who gloried in the wonderful name of Stenton Covington. I picture him as a stern Edwardian with a serious and voluminous moustache.
His name is commemorated beside a huge birdbath built to honour him. A name like Stenton Covington surely deserves to be remembered, perhaps by more than simply naming a nearby road – Covington Way – after him.
Part of the building is these days used as a pre-school. The very large stuffed toy tiger that I encountered looking out of a window (beside a polar bear playing an upright piano) reminded me of the Tony the Tiger rug in the window of Banksy’s Gross Domestic Product installation down the hill in central Croydon.
I walked back down to Streatham Station and felt the hops in a paper bag in my pocket. If I brew a beer with them, I thought, I could call it St Enton.
- Check out previous guided walks and restaurant, pub and gallery reviews from Ken Towl by clicking here
- Inside Croydon has been digging out the news stories that those in power don’t want you to know about since 2010. Help us continue to do that, and for £5 per month get access to our Under The Flyover podcast, plus benefit from money-off offers and priority booking for special events. Click here to find out more
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and BBC London News
- Inside Croydon named Journalist of the Year at 2018 Anna Kennedy Online Autism Heroes Awards
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: For two consecutive years, 2017 and 2018, Inside Croydon has been the source for two award-winning nominations in Private Eye magazine’s annual celebration of civic cock-ups
- In 2018, Inside Croydon had 1.6million pages viewed by more than half a million unique visitors
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or what to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org