There’s no shortage of pubs in London. Despite recurrent news stories about hundreds of boozers closing each day, the capital seems to be bucking the trend, with most houses only a street or two away from a handsome Victorian drinking establishment.

What this does mean is that a new pub has to be extra-special to carve out a niche. This is particularly true for the re-opened and refurbished Earl of Derby in New Cross, which is just a stone’s throw away from Irish pub and South London institution Skehan’s. 

Luckily, this isn’t their first rodeo, with the Earl under the same management as the White Horse in Peckham and Grove House Tavern in Camberwell, both of which are top notch. The Earl follows in their footsteps, with a cosy wood-panelled interior, classic pub decor and a great selection of beers. And for anyone sharpening their knives, ready to march in and critique the Guinness, we tried it and it was very good indeed. No room for a ‘Shit London Guinness’ Instagram tag here.

Most importantly though, The Earl of Derby has handed the kitchen reins over to Gengelly’s, who offer up a rotating range of fancified pub classics and more adventurous choices. The massively popular leek bhaji is priced as a starter, but is absolutely huge. Honestly, you could order it as a main course and leave satisfied. It’s milder than the onion bhaji it takes inspiration from, which helps it pair better with the classic pub grub it sits alongside. The batter is crisp, the centre is fluffy and, crucially, it isn’t dripping in oil.

If that sounds too light for you, try the black-label burger, smothered in cheese and with a melt-in-the-mouth patty. A couple of gherkin slices provide an added zing which cuts through and elevates the flavour, but the real plaudits as far as we’re concerned go to the sauce. Too long have we suffered under the yoke of ketchup-drenched or mayonnaise-smeared beef. It’s time we all acknowledge the true king of condiments… Burger sauce. Gengelly’s version is homemade, tangy, and slightly textured. A relish we’d have happily had by the bottle.

The burger is served on its own, but stumping up the extra money for chips is highly recommended, as the skin-on fries are perfectly fried and so artfully strewn with seasoning it’d bring a tear to Salt Bae’s eye.

The chicken and mushroom pie is a more classic affair, although it’s actually a bowl of filling served with a pastry top, rather than a full four-sided pie experience. That aside, the pastry is flaky and light, the sauce is rich, and the chicken and mushroom pieces are good and hefty. More pastry or a side of mashed potato would’ve been appreciated – more a testament to the heartbreak of not having anything to mop up the last of the delicious filling than anything else.

If you somehow still have room left after all that, dessert is in the form of ‘Grandma Betty’s lemon butter slice’ – a dense slab of almost-cheesecake, topped with a light and citric lemon cream. It’s the kind of heavy dessert you can almost feel sitting in your stomach afterwards, but it’s also so tasty that we cleared the plate in record time.

The food served by Gengelly’s is great, and the variety packed into a short, well-curated menu is impressive. More than that though, it’s food that fits perfectly into the Earl of Derby itself. Fresh takes on classic pub grub for a newly upmarket boozer with solid Victorian bones – the perfect combination.

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

87 Dennett’s Rd, London, SE14 5LW