My first house in London was a horrific ground floor flat with cracked lino floors, a terrifying gas oven and a serious mouse problem. Our moving in party on November 4th 2005 caused chaos. Someone hot boxed our landlord's car. Someone was sick over the fence into our lovely next door neighbour's sand-pit. Someone then fell through the same fence and propped it up with a super-market trolley. Then we let off enough fire-works to make our local community wish they were living in the Helmand Province. Then the police arrived to ask if any of us had witnessed the assault that had been committed in the pub opposite our house - in the Stonhouse.
It was the grottiest pub you can imagine. The most hostile atmosphere that makes being a Liverpool fan in Istanbul seem like a romantic holiday. My housemate at the time and I went to have our inaugural pint in our local and couldn't have felt more uncomfortable... the pool table had no baize, the walls had no paint, the toilets had no toilets and the walls were riddled with bizarre holes. It was horrific. Then mysteriously one night it conveniently caught fire and almost over night transformed into a very smart gastro-pub.
So it was with great fondness and no less curiosity that I returned to Stonhouse Street for a pre-cinema meal on Friday. I arrived feeling very warm and fairly full having been treated to some fantastic prawns and white wine at Wright's in Borough Market on the way back from the brilliant Rothko exhibition.
The transformation from ugly duckling to sauve, urbane swan is really hard for me to cope with. But in a good way. Somebody has done a fabulous job of resurrecting this phoenix from the flames.
The £12 fixed menu was tight but generous... whilst my crab cakes could generously be described as poor, the steak was as good as you'll get for the price. It came with a very commendable basil and lemon mayonnaise and enough chips to put a smile on Mr McCain's face.
The girls probably did better than me. Victoria's chicken liver and mushrooms on toast was delicious and extremely plentiful. I'm not one to take off marks for large portions... but it did dent her appetite for a few minutes! Cowie junior's smoked salmon pate was very smokey and beautifully coarse. Good honest food. Really tasty. Far tastier than my lump of crispy edged deep fried mashed potato with ghost of crab.
They both couldn't resist having fish pie on a Friday being the good Catholic school girls that they are. I didn't even get a sniff of it so it must have been good.
Our Chilean red was robust and good value. I certainly left with a good ready brek glow... ready to battle through 2 hours of Keira Knightly plodding her way through another period drama.
Hats off to the Stonhouse. It was completely packed when we left. We will definitely be back next time we go to the cinema - especially if they keep their Top Table offer going.