Fanfare for the Common man, and here’s a toast to two ‘saints’

Step out of Croydon and explore Streatham Common

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…

Norwood Grove is a hidden gem and one of the highlights of this easy amble

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.

The Manor Arms is a new venture for Young’s

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.

The Manor Arms gastropub menu is very tempting. This is their chicken Kiev

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.

The whitebait was a little bit special

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.

The little cafe at the Rookery at the top of Streatham Common is a reliable treat

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.

There’s no shortage of places to sit to admire the view in the Rookery

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.

It’s amazing what you can find for sale behind a big wooden door in a secret garden

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 .

Even in autumn, the gardens in the Rookery are impressive

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.

Stenton Covington deserves to be remembered

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.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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