Test Driving Loyal Tavern - Tom Cenci comes down to earth

roomThe new look.

What can you tell us about Loyal Tavern?

It's essentially the new Village East, having taken over that space on Bermondsey Street. Although it's owned by the same people, it's had quite a revamp inside and, most importantly, brought in a new chef in the shape of Tom Cenci, last seen as Head Chef of Duck & Waffle. Here, he's completely overhauled the menu - adding some late-night options at the same time. 

Where is it?

It's about 10 minutes walk or less from London Bridge station., Head out the back by the Shard and you'll find it about two thirds of the way down Bermondsey Street.

roomThe cocktail menu is worth a look, particularly for this Golden Negroni.

What about a drink before?

As Loyal Tavern is half-bar, half-restaurant, meeting here is definitely an option. There's a sizeable cocktail menu and a huge range of beer too. Cocktails are priced at around £10-12 and along with the drink pictured above, we also went for a Snow Comparison (Zubrowka vodka, apple, blueberry, lemon, orgeat, rhubarb bitters - £9.50).

And where should we sit?

If there are just the two of you, then there are a set of small two-person booths that are just opposite the door and these are definitely the best option. However, if you do like watching the chef in action, we rather liked the tables directly opposite the open kitchen area. In addition to this, there's a large private dining room in the basement. 

Onto the food. 

The menu seems to be set out as a standard snacks, starters, mains approach - but we were told that plates would be brought out as they were ready. So with that noted, we put our small-plates plan into action - only order what you want on the table at a time and stagger your ordering. This always does the trick. 

We'll also note here that we ate with someone who is gluten intolerant, and the menu has loads of GF options throughout - along with some excellent GF bread instead of the flatbread (but get that order in as soon as you can, as it needs to be prepared). So if you're looking for a restaurant with lots of GF options, this is a good bet. Also, make sure to check the specials board - the excellent potatoes below were on that. 

Here's a selection of what we had on the night. 

roomGrilled flatbread with parsnip hummus (£4) - a must to kick things off (you can ask for gluten-free bread too)

roomChicken skin crackling, hot sauce, blue cheese dressing (£3). Frankly, we could have kept ordering this all night long. 

roomCharred mackerel, apple, pine nuts, salt block (£5.50)

roomVenison tartare, sprouts, beef dripping, miso mayo (£12.50) - the sprouts are a nice touch and the tartare is outstanding. Pair with some of the flatbread, though. 

roomRump of lamb, marrowfat mushy peas, mustard sauce (£19.50) - one of the larger dishes and the winner in our book - the lamb and the sauce both outstanding. 

roomGurnard, crab bisque, carrot, orange, seaweed (£18) - didn't quite hit the heights of the lamb, but still good. 

roomFondant potatoes, filled with Stinking Bishop cheese. This is clearly a must-have. Because who wouldn't want cheese-filled potatoes? 

It's also worth pointing out the late-night options. Even when the main kitchen closes, they have a short menu of toasted sandwiches that will be available until close (all £6). On our visit, these included ox cheek and gruyere, kimchi and cheddar and tuna, red Leicester and jalapeno. So if you're in the area and in need of a late-night snack, this should absolutely be on your list. 

And how about the vegetarian options?

As you can see from the above - we didn't lead too heavily to the vegetarian options (apart from the hummus, which is also vegan) - but there are plenty available. Notables are "blackened cauliflower, sesame yoghurt, chilli, green sauce (£6)" and "baked celeriac, mushroom broth, confit yolk, parmesan, truffled breadcrumbs (£13)" - both of which sound tempting. 

And desserts?

Desserts are on the £5 range, and keep an eye on the specials board for the current cheeses (that comes with cheese, charred fruit and black pepper cracker). Also note that they have an ice-cream sandwich on the specials board with changing flavours - and like the other sandwiches, that's a late-night option too. 

Here's what we had. 

roomCoal-roasted pineapple, salted caramel ice cream (£5)

roomBanana bread, mascarpone frosting, pistachios, coffee, toasted buckwheat (£5.50)

How about drinks?

We've touched on cocktails above, but on top of that, there's a one-pager, primarily European wine list that starts at £24 (Puglia Trebbianno) with about half of the wines available by glass or carafe (as well as 75ml glasses if you're really reining it in). 

Overall thoughts

We left rather impressed with Loyal Tavern. Still in the early days, it already has a strong menu that kicks off with some excellent snacks - that chicken crackling for one. It's also one of the more affordable new menus we've seen in recent months. We think that changing from Village East to Loyal Tavern has been a very good move, giving the food some proper focus and Tom Cenci's menu is worth seeking out. And there's also that must-have cheesy potato dish. All that and late-night toasted sarnies make this a winner. 

Hot Dinners ate as guests of Loyal Tavern. Prices are correct at the time of writing. 


More about Loyal Tavern

Where is it? 171-173 Bermondsey Street, Bermondsey, London SE1 3UW

Find out moreVisit their website.

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