The gastropub

After a royal pops in for a pint, a London local embarks upon an ambitious upgrade – but will the result be fit for a prince?

Image: www.phildisley.com

One blustery night a ruggedly handsome young prince was reported to have entered the unpromising portals of The Nag’s Head public house in deepest Fulham and requested a pint of their finest ale. No royal appointment was ever sought by the excitable landlord, but this visitation prompted a hasty, Cinderella-style makeover for the unprepossessing hostelry. Overnight the swirly carpeted dungeon was magically transformed into a gleaming gastropub.

The peeling beer mats were banished and in their stead glass hurricane lamps cast soft light on reclaimed pine tabletops and confit pigeon leg in sweet onion gravy with ash-baked celeriac. The menu was no longer a PVC-clad affair reminiscent of a hooker’s boot. Like everything else in The Nag’s Head, it too had become “authentic”, complete with lists of locally sourced ingredients hand-scrawled daily on paper made of donkey dung. The surly food critics cast their cynical spoons into the salted-caramel ice cream, digging desperately for new ways to say “yummy”.

As planned, along with the Elephant’s Breath paintwork came a new clientele. For no sooner had the prince downed his pint and made off into the night in a polished Range Rover than droves of new-generation Sloane Rangers emerged from their flats in Parsons Green and began to party like it was 1985 all over again.

At the helm were the heirhunters gasping for a shot at the title. The snug began to brim with pretty girls swishing photo-ready hair in the direction of the pub door as they imagined treading divots with HRH at Smith’s Lawn of a weekend and romantic ski trips to Klosters en famille. In their wake came hopeful young men who turned up the collars of their polo shirts and feasted their eyes on the delectable totty. For sometimes, at the end of yet another evening when the prince himself had failed to manifest, these princess manquées would charitably give in and go home with an investment banker if they’d had enough Viognier.

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But while the smell of stale ale and cheese and onion crisps had been swapped for seasonal flowers and vintage leather sofas, there remained one element from the pub’s past that proved less easy to shake off: the regulars. Try as they might, the owners couldn’t seem to shift the card-carrying locals who stuck to the bar as keen as the mustard that accompanied the homemade venison sausage rolls.

With their copies of The Sun and their paint-stained overalls, they obdurately occupied the same corner of the bar where they’d sipped their pints for the past 20 years. They ridiculed the absurdly named new beers – Bonkers Conkers came in for special mention – and spluttered at the very idea of spending a fiver on an organic black-pudding Scotch egg. Nonetheless, they would not be moved, no matter how high the management hiked the prices. They just sipped more slowly and made louder jokes about Eton mess. The owners retaliated by removing the bar stools, but to no avail.

And so the divide continued, until one summer evening when the Pimm’s flowed and speculation as to where Pippa Middleton got her new ballet flats had reached fever pitch. At first nobody noticed the hale, red-headed young man shouldering his way through the crowd. Indeed, it wasn’t until he was standing at the bar that one of the heirhunters had to stuff her handbag into her mouth to prevent herself from screaming out loud. For handing over a tenner to the barman was the prince himself. Feverish excitement rippled through the ranks of “ladies in waiting”, and they began to jostle frantically for position as the royal took a grateful sip of cold Doom Bar and surveyed the room, clearly in the mood for a friendly chat.

This was the moment the girls had been anticipating, the moment they were born for. But before any of them could dream up a single thing to say, before they could woo him with their much rehearsed “regal yet raunchy” facial expressions, the prince had turned to Reggie the mechanic, dug a royal elbow in his ribs and laughed, “A fiver for a Scotch egg? You’ve got to be joking!”

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