The Guard House is the latest addition to The Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich, with the former military site continuing its transformation into a cordoned-off haven of pub food and brunch. Up the road lies traffic jams stretching to the Woolwich Ferry, while down the road looms the end of the DLR line; but, after entering through wrought-iron gates that lead off of a congested main road, you're immersed in a world of fake cannons, neatly sculpted lawns and lashings of draught beer.
From the outset, I have to confess a vested interest in the subject of this review: I live in Woolwich and spend my time trying to get people to visit me in my south London location. Other Londoners seem to find the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) daunting; they like the idea of a jolly jaunt, but as soon as you send out an invite, it seems that, to them, Zone 4 is about as far away as Middle-Earth's Mordor.
But, unfortunately for them, they are missing out. Unbeknownst to instagrammers trying to cram themselves into a brick lane beigel shop, this little corner of South East London has some of what I consider the best restaurants around - and not just because of their proximity to my front door.
The newest addition to the Woolwich collection is The Guard House, an up-scale pub-cum-restaurant nestled just inside the gates of the Royal Arsenal development, an area that's ready prepared with expensive new-build flats and cafes. There's even a bi-monthly farmers market, which caters for all tastes including stalls catering for those with gluten-free dietary needs.
What the Guard House does so well is maintain an upscale feel, while not skimping on the hearty, pub-style essence of the food menu. It's still got the winning ingredients I would look for: you're going for a meal that fills you up and looking to relax in a big chair in which you can enjoy a beer.
The mackerel, pickled cucumber, radishes and cashew nuts starter was well prepared to set off the meal - salty and tangy, but in a way that gently awakens the senses. Across the table the scallops, that day's special, looked fresh and meaty. From passing by the board adorning the outside of the restaurant, the specials seem to be of the seafood variety - a hopeful sign that the main ingredients are locally caught.
The guinea fowl kiev, served with Savoy cabbage, chestnut and bacon, arrived smelling wonderful and good enough to scrape off the bone. And, going back to that existential point of pub food: it filled me up, it left me happily satiated and, while the chocolate and passion fruit cheesecake was unnecessary, it was there for all the right reasons. Thick, rich and beautifully presented, it ended the meal in a sumptuous and rather indulging fashion.
Kindly service added to a pleasant evening, that could very well have ended in the more traditional-pub area just across the hall. Calling the whole building a pub seems a little far-fetched though: our first experience of the place came a few weeks prior when we were told we wouldn't be able to dine there - not for a lack of available menu on offer, but because we needed a reservation, they were full. And that definitely hasn't happened to me at a pub before.
But as a pub-style restaurant, it does well. We left in a fair state of contentment.
NOTE: James Tennent's meal was courtesy of Roche Communications