BY PALOMA LACY
Last winter, I awoke to find no electricity and a stack of work that needed to be completed by the end of the day, with help from a laptop rapidly running out of battery.
Minus temperatures outside made me think long and hard before decamping to The Manor Arms in Streatham.
I set up shop right next to the roaring fire as soon as it opened, and there I remained until 6pm.
Since that day, it’s had a special place in my heart. I decided then and there, it was my neighbourhood pub of choice. I don’t call it my local as it’s about a mile-and-a-half from home, but it’s the closest decent food pub.
Such fond memories of leisurely lunches and Friday night drinks with friends, which is why it came as something of a surprise to learn the pub had undergone refurbishment and reopened at the end of the summer.
I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with it. A few Sundays ago, I popped along to see what had changed.
The answer is, aesthetically, I couldn’t really tell that a great deal had. I think there may have been some new soft furnishings, new furniture added, but the open kitchen remains the same place.
The occasional waft of smoke and steam made its way through to the diners, as it always had.
The Manor Arms is as family friendly as ever, mid-week visits by parent and baby groups are very much the norm. It’s the kind of pub with nearly as many mini visitors as adults.
These days, this suits me just fine, but I wonder what regular pubgoers who’ve come to the pub to escape family life make of this cultural shift.
One change that failed to escape notice was the distinct improvement in cooking standards, and it’s fair to say the food has been elevated more than a few notches.
It was pretty good before, but the roast my family and I enjoyed was way above and beyond anything I’ve eaten within a three-mile radius of home in a long time.
The winter Sunday menu is like a warm and comforting embrace from an old friend, and it’s taken the whole family into consideration.
There is a kids’ menu but we prefer not to disappear down the chicken goujons and fries route, instead encouraging as many new tastes as possible.
Besides, sharing adult meals with a small child is never a problem and it makes economic sense – a win-win situation.
On this particular day, the little one was introduced to devilled whitebait, served with chestnut aioli (£6). It was actually my husband’s choice but he was pitted against a hungry child with very nimble fingers.
Freezing cold when I arrived, heritage pumpkin, sage and chestnut soup (£6) was most welcome. A huge fan of chestnut – why is it only during the last few months of the year that these jewels are embraced by restaurant menus?
The Sunday roast is given the royal treatment here, there’s nothing even the slightest bit humble about it.
All roasts are served with double egg Yorkshire puddings, goose fat roast potatoes, maple glazed parsnips, carrot and swede mash, Romanesco cauliflower cheese, Rainbow chard and proper gravy. This was a huge treat and the all-in roast I only usually cook at Christmas time.
There’s a choice of four meats and a veggie option, but it was the attention to detail that was so well received. My roast Shropshire chicken breast and stuffed leg (£16) was a case in point, with every effort made to create flavours that lived long on the palate.
It was a pleasing lunch, but not perfect. I loved the colours of a variety of vegetables on the plate, glistening, shiny skin of the meat, and the piece de resistance, Yorkshire pudding easily the size of a small child’s head.
The parsnips were a little underdone, and the gravy not as silky smooth as I would have liked, but a great plate nonetheless.
I was keen to try whole Creedy Carver roast chicken, bread sauce and stuffing, which serves two – though I’m sure it would easily feed a family of four, making the £28 price tag a little more palatable.
However, my husband had other ideas. Norfolk belly of pork and crackling hit all the right notes for him, with the winning combination of succulent meat and crunch of salty skin. Home-made apple sauce finished the dish off nicely.
Anyone baulking at the £16 price tag, be assured that it’s completely worth it for a healthy (ish), hearty meal that will keep you full all day.
Sunday staple sirloin of beef is available, so traditionalists needn’t worry, but the kitchen has taken it forwards a few steps, with the addition of ox cheek croquette.
If you’re having difficulty deciding quite which roast to go for, there’s the Ultimate Roast – beef, chicken and lamb (£24).
Don’t fancy a roast? There’s a small a la carte menu, with all the usual crowd pleasers, with some unusual veggie and vegan options as well.
Jerusalem artichoke and swiss chard quiche, watercress and maple roasted heritage squash, broad beans, peas, vegan cheddar.
We absolutely love what the new Manor Arms is cooking – keep it up.
The Manor Arms, 13 Mitcham Lane, Streatham, SW16 6LQ