Sunday, 10 July 2011

Restaurant Review: The Compass

Just the right amount of gastro at this friendly Rotherhithe pub which I've reviewed for my column in South London Press.

The gastropub continues to be a growing phenomenon. Almost every week a slightly grim old boozer will get a lick of paint, some eclectic retro furniture and a good floorboard polishing before re-opening with a full menu and another ale or two on offer.

Of course, this is no bad thing, but there’s always a downside. These pubs all too often lack the character and personal touch of a more old-fashioned establishment, and what’s created instead is row after row of almost identical yet indefinable pub-bistro-cafe-wine bar-restaurant hybrids.

Negatives done, The Compass is a textbook case of what a gastropub should be. This is not only because of the food and the atmosphere, but also because of the location. Set on a peaceful patch of Rotherhithe Street, it has become a landmark in an area where there are swanky new flats galore but barely anywhere for the people living in them to go without taking a bus.

The first good impression comes on walking through the door. It’s not the look of the place - which has the prerequisite polished floors, eclectic furniture and quirky memorabilia - which impresses, it’s the welcome. Along with everyone else in the pub, I am treated like a regular and a local despite the fact that I am neither.

Late Saturday brunch with the papers seems to be a popular choice at The Compass. At the recommendation of a bacon sandwich with goats’ cheese cream (£6), I can certainly see why. A tea or coffee comes free with every breakfast, and the cappuccino is rewardingly frothy whilst still tasting of proper espresso coffee.

As I wait for the bacon sandwich, I hear how everything sold is made fresh on site. This includes salsas, mayonnaise, dressings and, of course, the bread. It’s a simple thing which is so often neglected and yet has the power to make or break a sandwich entirely. The day’s bread is a granary loaf with crisp crusts and a dotting of whole grains. Thankfully it’s a maker not a breaker.

The bacon and goats’ cheese cream within it won’t be overshadowed, though. There’s a clash of two strong flavours, but it’s a salty hit that completely works, with the cream acting as something of an intermediary.

On the brunch menu, proper, fat pub chips are available for £3 as is a simple green salad. The full menu offers a wider range of salads, steaks, fish and other slightly poshed-up pub food. The printed menu is reasonably concise, but backed-up with a black-board heaving with specials. A salt beef salad (£13) is a highlight. It’s also a dish that demonstrates the creativity of The Compass kitchen. Like the bacon sandwich it’s as simple as can be, but somehow no one else has thought of it. Salt beef is cut into thin strips and tossed into a light remoulade with celeriac and fine green beans and a good horseradish kick.

If you’re after something more than coffee, there’s an extensive wine list and a good few by the glass. Get there whilst the sun’s out and there’s a courtyard to pass the time in with occasional weekend barbecues. There’ll even be quiz nights and special events, too, which cement The Compass’ place as a proper local pub. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth travelling for, though. In spite of the polished floor.

The Compass, 346-352 Rotherhithe Street, Rotherhithe, SE16 5EF

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