The Garrison and I go way back. We’re like childhood school pals who really don’t catch up as often as they ought to, but when they do… oh how the sparks fly and the drinks flow – memories are revived and simultaneously created.
Like any lasting relationship, I can fondly remember the first time I encountered The Garrison. As a spritely freelancer, I was on my way to a meeting at The Stage magazine in the hope of securing some full-time work writing about performing arts (me critiquing theatre would be a desperate act in itself, one that would undoubtedly close soon after opening night). Nonetheless, I was eagerly early for the meeting, so decided to continue my stroll down Bermondsey Street and promptly walked through the doors of the infamous pub. I sat at the bar, ordered a drink and took in the surroundings.
This was around 10 years ago, when Clive Watson and Adam White were running the site. The duo, who are largely responsible for the rejuvenation of eating out around the Bermondsey area, had created a site to suit many a guest – creative décor, a decent drinks range, a widely-praised menu and a downstairs cinema/private dining room. It became a venue style that a lot of the modern on-trade has since replicated, consciously or not.
These days, The Garrison is run by the City Pub EIS Fund, after being acquired by the investment vehicle in June last year. Having spent many evenings in the pub before and after the transition (including a raucous New Year’s Eve and a 30th birthday celebration), I can safely say that the operation has retained its charm, service and quality throughout – a recent visit merely confirmed these points.
Guests are usually there for the food – the drinks range is strong, but the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are the star attractions. Even so, on the evening menu you’ll still find a list of drinks at the top of the pile. Sat alluringly under the heading ‘To start’ is Prosecco (£6), Champagne (£9), Aged Negroni (£7.80), Manhattan (£8.50), and a Sipsmith cucumber, lemon and elderflower G&T (£6.50). These options allow for a fine start to an evening feast.
Seeing as you’ve had a drink ‘to start’, there is no section entitled ‘starters’. Instead, The Garrison introduces the food side of things with its ‘Smalls’. Prices range from £6.80 to £9, which are honest amounts for the quality and quantity delivered. From the ‘Parsley root risotto, chestnut, root crisps and parsley pesto’ to the ‘House-cured salmon, salt-baked beetroot and dill mustard dressing’, no dish on The Garrison’s smalls menu smells of predictability – it’s well-matched ingredients with the odd complementary surprise thrown in along the way.
To the mains then, where a porter-braised Jacob’s Ladder (short rib) beef dish jumped off the menu and practically forced me to ignore all of its on-page companions and order it right away. I did as I was told. The beef, which fell apart beautifully into its braising liquor base, was accompanied with bubble and squeak croquettes and shallots. It cost £18.50 and it was brilliant. I need not say more.
If that sort of beef fix isn’t quite enough for you though, then there is a ‘Black Angus sirloin with hand cut fries and béarnaise’ (£22) – the most expensive item on The Garrison’s menu. Vegetarians are well catered for (as are all diners with any intolerances, I might add) via ‘Lentil, apple and walnut wellington, roasted baby root veg and vegetarian gravy’ (£12.50) and ‘Orecchiette pasta, walnut, sprout tops, sage brown butter and dolcelatte’ (£13). The latter made me think twice about Jacob and his ladder, I must admit.
The classic pub staple does make an appearance in the form of ‘Fish and chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce’ (£15), which will no doubt please hungry visitors who want to know exactly what it is they’re getting. However, if I were you, I’d order one of the dishes that noticeably exemplifies the effort The Garrison’s kitchen team goes to with its menu.
Puddings take a larger step towards the pub grub that this country has come to know and excitedly expect – and that’s no bad thing. The choice of five dishes were: ‘Apple and Yorkshire forced rhubarb crumble with custard’ (£6); ‘Sticky toffee pudding, butterscotch and ice cream’ (£6); ‘Chocolate brownie, chilli chocolate sauce and sour cream’ (£6); ‘Artisan cheeseboard with house chutney and crackers’ (£8); and ‘A selection of ice creams and sorbets’ (£5.75). The sticky toffee stuck out for me and did not disappoint, particularly on the cold evening that I happened to visit. Rich, warming and just the right portion size.
I feel guilty about the fact that I haven’t even listed the wonderful cocktails, beers (bottled and draught) and wines on offer, but let me assure you that the choice was wide-ranging and enticing. Go and check them out for yourself. Judging by the history I have with this cracking pub, I might well see you there.