We found ourselves heading towards Columbia Flower Market on Sunday afternoon, not for the flowers really but for Brawn, which Giles Coren pointed out was rather decent. When we eventually reached Brawn, we were promptly informed by the staff that they are serving only set lunches for the day and handed us the menu. We took a quick glance at the menu – it cost £25 per person for a three course set and annoyingly it didn’t offer any choices for the mains. That explained why there was only one table occupied at 1pm with a couple nursing their wine at the bar.
So we made our way down along Columbia Road through the crowds looking for good deals. We’ve recently gotten a vase at home as it would probably be nice to have some flowers given that it’s summer and all. But with stall owners bellowing, pushing their wares, and people coming from all over London, not to mention the tourists, it takes quite a bit of an effort to get a good deal. Regardless, the short hop from Brawn to our next choice The Royal Oak took us longer than expected – our fault really, we stopped to gawk at some brilliant blooms.
Curiously, The Royal Oak looked every bit like a cross between a family orientated pub and a place where a fist fight can break out anytime. A well worn bar counter dominated the pub with tables arranged around it with ample natural lighting from large windows lined the façade. I was about to bring LO towards the jukebox at the back when I realized that it is a cigarette vending machine. A fully tattooed guy grimaced when I walked past him but upon seeing LO, he broke into a toothless grin, “What a cute one you’ve got there.” She’s always the crowd pleaser.
Though there’s seating available all the way to the rear (there’re even some outdoor seating towards the end), I would definitely recommend securing a table in the main dining area just beside one of the windows by Columbia Road to catch some action while tucking into The Royal Oak’s hearty offerings.
“Order at the Bar” was scribbled over the menu chalkboard perched high on a wall. Despite having a disappointing deep fried squid the day before at Providores, I was game to give it another go. And fortunately I did as well. The Royal Oak’s deep fried squid (£6) retained much of its chewiness. The alioli didn’t overwhelm the lightly battered squid a bit. A serving of dressed rockets lent its peppery taste to the mix. Fantastic.
My roast beef (£15) though a bit on the pricey side was one hearty meal. A couple of thin sliced beef with its sides slightly burnt, greens and carrots chunks, all that with a homemade Yorkshire pudding settling on the top. The Yorkshire pudding must be homemade as it was a bit on the tough side. No complaints there though as the gravy would eventually soften it down a fair bit. I was pleasantly surprised to find some bacon cuts hidden below the greens. This is a good one to go for if you are on an empty stomach.
Lamb chops (£14) was more toned down compared to its bovine counterpart. The choice of gravy, if you could call it that, was rather curious. It was essentially yogurt with some light chilli emulsion. That and some sliced courgettes filled the peripheral of the plate. We would probably give this a miss if we were to return to The Royal Oak again.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow was playing when we stepped out of the door and into the bustling flower market again just in time to pick up some last minute deals as the stall owners were packing up. It’s easy to fall in love with The Royal Oak. Even though pubs have a way of outlasting every other businesses, you don’t really get pubs with such character and yet serve up some decent food these days. Stop by for a bite the next time you are at Columbia Flower Market. I know I will.
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