I first visited the Ashburnham Arms in Greenwich’s Ashburnham triangle about 17 years ago, and it’s been lost to me ever since.
I was taken then by my flatmate, a Greenwich native, who had heard that the pub had won some award or other. I seem to recall it took us a while to find that time, too.
London streets rarely run in straight lines so two roads that seem to run at right angles can slowly curve to meet, while what feel like parallel lines can turn out to be subtly angled spokes off a hub. At the same time, the houses are made of the same London stock brick, to similar designs, denying the wanderer the necessary points of reference.
Even as you draw near, the Ashburnham can be hard to spot, its signage hidden behind shrubs, and its exterior otherwise resembling the grand 19th century houses that surround it.
Which, of course, makes it all the more charming – a kind of secret reserved for locals, not tourists.
So secret that when I’ve tried to return, I’ve failed, popping out in Greenwich Park, or on the high street, or in Deptford, thirsty and scratching my head.
Of course Google Maps spoils the fun. This time, I walked straight there with only a bare minimum of confusion and back-tracking.
It was much as I remembered it – multi-roomed, just; modernised, a bit; respectable, but not posh; friendly, without overdoing it.
It’s a Shepherd Neame pub and this time the only cask bitter on offer was Master Brew, their ‘ordinary’. It cost somewhere north of £4 a pint but tasted extraordinarily good – light, bright, and snapping with earthy, vivid, tea-like hop character.
I sat in a corner with my book and enjoyed the atmosphere. Outside, intense sunlight tempered by a breeze that carried the smell of the city and the jangle of ice cream vans through the open door; inside, the murmur of soft London accents, the sisterly chat of the bar staff, and the rustling of newspaper pages, all wrapped up in warm wood and scented with furniture polish.
As dinner service finished bowls of crisp, salty leftover roast potatoes were distributed around the pub – a physical manifestation of unpretentious hospitality.
I had to stop for a second pint, didn’t I? After all, I might never find the Ashburnham again.