Masks and casks: good to be back in the open at The Oval

Planning a trip to the pub post-lockdown requires face masks and careful monitoring of the weather forecast, as KEN TOWL discovered yesterday

Back in business… at least partially – The Oval Tavern with its ‘secret’ garden

It was snowing when I woke up, but the childish wonder I usually feel when I see snow was tempered when I remembered that this was the Glorious 12th, the day that pubs – at least those with beer gardens – would be back in business, and the day I had promised Inside Croydon that I would “investigate” the beer garden of the Oval Tavern and report on how the latest stage of the easing of the lockdown was going down locally.

Fortunately, BBC Weather predicted a balmy 6º by 1pm, the time I had booked a table. Over the next few hours, the clouds drifted away to reveal a blue sky imbued with the hope and aspirations of better times.

For the occasion, I had lured old school friend Dan from Richmond and his friend Chris from Acton, having described The Oval as “probably the best beer garden in Croydon”.  I hoped that the April sunshine would linger.

Well-served: the beer garden at The Oval promises to be well-used in coming weeks

It did. At 1pm I arrived, sterilised my hands and gave my contact details, as we have learned to do these days, and was ushered via a side entrance to the garden and my table which was, like most of the tables, protected by a canopy lest it should rain.

While I waited for Dan and Chris to arrive, I took in the atmosphere. There was a general air, I thought, of goodwill, a happy mix of friends and family and work colleagues, all bound by a palpable feeling of optimism and an understandable desire to have a good time, to get back into the swing of things.

This atmosphere was enhanced when the large group at the table on the stage area (where bands play at The Oval in “normal” times) started to sing in a very male voice choir way, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”. There was a hush as we realised that we were listening to live music. The sun was shining, the beer was flowing and all was well with the world.

Lush: the Moroccan-style lamb burgers were well-received

There was food, too, something of a speciality at The Oval Tavern.

The menu leans towards the vegetarian and the vegan, but not exclusively so. Dan and Chris both opted for the hand-made Moroccan spiced lamb burger and both attested that it was good. I had the lush pulled pork bap with home-made pickles and slaw, and I can confirm that it was lush, as were the chunky chips that I had with it.

The Proper Job pint that I drank with it went down well, too. Dan said his Guinness was good. Chris did not complain about his lager.

Our bill came to less than £100, after filling meals and five pints each.

The cost of living: five pints each, to make up for lost time

We could probably have got away with drinking less, but we were all so desperately grateful to be in a sunny pub beer garden chatting about this and that, and we all realised that we had missed this simple pleasure so much.

I also lost my inhibition to the extent that I was emboldened to approach the singers and ask them who they were. It turns out that they were about 10 per cent of the Croydon Male Voice Choir. Their secretary, Roger Lee, told me that if anyone is interested, they are always looking for new members.

Esther Sutton is the landlady of The Oval Tavern. She has turned the pub into a real community hub and a destination venue for an eclectic range of live music for an eclectic mix of customers.

April 12 was indeed glorious at The Oval Tavern. In these dark times, we need places like this more than ever. If we want to keep them, then we have to support them. Call 020 8686 6023 to book a table. You won’t regret it.

Read more: Our guide to some of Croydon’s better covid-safe beer gardens

To read Ken Towl’s previous articles, on pubs, restaurants, shopping during the covid-19 lockdown, or just getting lost on the North Downs Way, click here

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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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