When I look for a cafe I look for good espresso coffee, a little of something nice to eat and a pleasant and relaxed environment where I want to spend a while. The area around Bermondsey Tube Station isn’t exactly teeming with cafes that meet my requirement. In fact, I frequent less than a handful, and they can be a little difficult to locate…
Shortwave Cafe is relatively new and operates in a cavernous industrial space on the old Peek Freans biscuit factory site. Their espresso coffee is good (and great value!) and they also run as a bar in the evenings. I can vouch for the negroni! The cafe can feel a little chilly in the winter months, even with the recently installed heating. Still, its a good sized space with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Their gallery always has something interesting on show. Shortwave is open 6 days a week, from 8 am until 10:30pm (closed Sundays).
Secret Goldmine is another new addition to the area (opened mid-2017) and occupies the front half of a small and cosy railway viaduct arch in what is now the Old Jamaica Rd Business Park. Its not a big space but we’ve never had a problem finding a seat and there’s always friendly service and great coffee on offer. If you’re peckish then there’s hot food (pies, sausage rolls, scotch eggs) available from The Pie Cart (which occupies the rear of the arch) and sandwiches and cakes too. We were lucky to visit a few Fridays back when Mikito were in-house with a special pop-up menu that included a collaboration with The Pie Cart that resulted in a delicious Burmese scotch egg .
Secret Goldmine is open Wednesdays to Saturdays, 8 am to 4pm (Saturdays from 9 am).
Comptoir Gourmand on Ropewalk (Maltby Street Market) comes a close third. Comptoir offers a wider menu with good coffee and is open 7 days a week, starting from 8:30am (9:30am Sundays). On weekends they run a Tartiflette stall as part of the Maltby Street Market.
Craftsman Cafe (on Abbey st) was a fabulous additional weekend option in this neighbourhood up until around Christmas. I am very sad to see it is still closed, with a note on the door saying there’s a new owner on the way. I have my fingers crossed it will be re-open soon, and on more days of the week.
Are there are any cafes in the area that I’ve missed? Drop me a note to let me know!
A tank in Bermondsey??? I’d seen references to Stompie Garden and its tank but it took me a while to get over to Mandela Way to see it, let alone work out that the tank is actually Stompie! The tank is apparently a soviet tank that was used in Czechoslovakia and then brought to the UK for a film (Richard III). Stompie eventually found his way to Bermondsey to help punctuate a property development dispute over what is now Stompie Garden. Quite a statement! Its been here in SE16 for over twenty years now. The first time I found it, in September last year, it was painted gold. It seems to be repainted on a regular basis, at the moment its got a cute “join-the-dots” pattern going.
Bermondsey Bookstop is a cute little book share situated on the corner of Clements & Webster Rd. The plaque on top states it was built by students of the Construction Youth Trust (a charity that helps young people develop industry skills) and lists all the participants by name. It is usually well stocked with a wide selection of reading material.
I stumbled across this lovely mosaic mural around the back of Rotherhithe Overground station quite by chance. Its on the corner of Swan Rd and Kenning St and is a lovely depiction of Rotherhithe village from across the River Thames featuring a resident mute swans. The large planting by the street is a shame as it really obscures the mosaic mural.
The Lonely Glove Society on Greenland Quay is a sweet & colourful sanctuary for all found “hand protectors”. I guess the idea is that you could possibly find your missing glove, or perhaps put together a new combination of hand wear if in need? And even if the gloves or mittens don’t find a home, they are at least brightening up the dock area through the artful arrangements.
The tribute statue of Phyllis Pearsall who created the first London A to Z is another favourite in the area. The sculpture is part of the Sustrans Portrait Benches project which installed bench sculptures along bike and walking trails around London. The subjects of the sculptures were chosen by public vote. Phyllis, the subject of a musical, “The A – Z of Mrs P”, came from a mapping family and there is some controversy over just how much of the A to Z was her own leg work. But hey, the London A to Z was an important part of Londoners lives for decades! The sculptures can be found at Brunswick Quays (opposite the James Walker Monument).
Well I finally made it to M.Manze on Tower Bridge Road today for a pie & mash traditional East End lunch. It’s been on my “food to try” list for quite some time, and I’d decided that today was going to be the day.
We arrived about a half hour before their 2 pm closing time (it was Monday, check their website for hours) and the back section of the cafe was already closed. Luckily the small table (more of a counter than a table) right at the front was free.
The ladies behind the counter were very welcoming and I was also interested to read their blue plaque which stated that this is the oldest surviving eel and pie shop in London (established in 1892!).
I went for a single pie, liquor and mash (potato). With a side of jellied eels. And a cup of tea.
The meat pie was delicious, with crisp pastry on top and a very nice beef mince with gravy (think, more of a jus, dare I say it?). The liquor is a parsley bechamel which I enjoyed. The mash(ed potato) was more than plentiful (and a little dry, for my taste). The tea (with milk as a standard) was just right – strong but not too strong.
It was my first try of jellied eel and it was fine. I found the coldness of the eel too much of a contrast for the rest of the food. The actual eel itself was very nicely cooked with a light flesh and good flavour. I will go for the steamed (hot) eel, if I have another go.
So, I think I’ve worked out what my next order will be… pie with liquor, hold the mash, steamed eel on the side. And a nice cuppa tea.
SE16’s peninsular location means that it has more than its fair share of Thames river frontage packed with amazing city views and historical sites. The frontage is almost all accessible via the southern Thames Path. Its a flat, interesting walk of just over 5 km that takes me just over 1 hour (good pace, one way) with some good options (pubs and cafes) to stop for a rest and refuel on the way.
A good place to start the walk is at Bermondsey Wall East, just by the Angel pub, at the statue called ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’. This spot has it all and is a good summary of what’s on offer on this walk: stunning city and riparian views, a couple of snippets of history, a small park and an atmospheric pub (The Angel, which has absolutely fabulous views).
Dr Alfred Salter and his wife, Ada, are commemorated by this recent sculpture by Diane Gorvin (which incorporates a remnant of an older sculpture of the couple’s daughter who died young) to remember all that the Salters did to improve the lives of the Bermondsey community. If you’re coming via the Bermondsey Tube look out for the commemoration to Dr Salter just by the top of the escalators. For more on the Salter family and their commemoration sculptures, see this site.
Opposite Dr Salter’s Daydream is the site of a former Moated Manor House (dating from 1350, a residence of King Edward III). The remains have been incorporated into a little park. The Angel is a nice and quiet pub with good food and great river views.
Heading east along the Thames Path takes you through to historic centre of Rotherhithe. I won’t say much about this area here as I’ve already covered it with my previous posts on the Brunel Museum and Rotherhithe Village. Needless to say, its worth a good look around, if you have never visited.
Past Rotherhithe Village, the path continues mostly on the edge of the Thames. Keep heading east, follow the Thames Path signs and you’ll soon find yourself crossing a big red Bascule bridge.
Bascule apparently means “see-saw” in french and describes the action of the bridge opening. This is one of two bascule bridges in the area (both painted red). They are both actually from the mid-twentieth century (there’s something about them that made me think they are much older) and are no longer operational in their original form.
Once over the bridge keep to the riverside. There are some nice views north-west across to Wapping (and back towards the city) from here. In a few minutes you’ll find yourself directly across from Limehouse Basin.
Just around the bend is the first view of Canary Wharf. If you continue along the Thames Path you’re quickly at Nelson Dock. The Hilton Doubletree hotel here runs a regular ferry from here to Canary Wharf. The ferry is part of TFL and accepts oyster cards (apparently hotel guests can use the service for free).
With the twist in the Thames at this point if you continue in the direction we’ve been heading you’re now heading south. A few minutes on and you’re at Durrand’s Wharf, a little park & plaza on the river that looks straight across to Canary Wharf.
If the weather is fine and you feel like a short detour, I’d recommend Stave Hill. There’s a tree-lined pedestrian path heading away from the river here that takes you towards the Russia Dock Woodland. Stave Hill is in this park, right next to the ecological park.
Stave Hill was constructed in the 1980s when Russia Dock (which was a dock used to handle timber arriving by ship from Russia and the Nordic states) was filled in. Up top stands a bronze relief sculpture of what the commercial docks around here once looked like. There are also excellent views all around from the top which definitely makes it worth the short climb.
Continuing south, either from Durand’s Wharf or Stave Hill, you’ll quickly reach the Greenland Dock area, London’s oldest wet dock which was London’s centre of the whaling industry, with the whale blubber shipped in from Greenland.
Its worth spending a bit of time looking around here. The commercial docks redevelopment in the 1980s retained the Greenland Dock area which now offer moorings and water activities, surrounded by plenty of residential buildings, a pub and a cafe. There are some nice modern sculptures interspersed with original port and shipping artefacts from the times of the commercial docks, which are all well signposted.
Most of the other docks were filled in for residential complexes but their names give you a clue as to which dock had previously been there (e.g. Baltic Quay was once Baltic Yard and was predominantly used for handling timber that came in by ship from the Baltic).
Greenland Docks offers a number of transport options to end your walk. You could, of course, continue along the Thames Path to Deptford. You can take a ferry from Greenland Surrey Quays Pier. If you’re after rail, you can walk through the docks area towards Surrey Quays shopping complex to the tube (Canada Water) or the overground (Surrey Quays or Canada Water).
If you do head to Surrey Quays then look out for the second Bascule Bridge in the area, Redriff Road Bridge, which lies parallel to Redriff Road. (Redriffe was another name for Rotherhithe and is the fictional home town of Gulliver in the novel Gulliver’s Travels.) If you’re walking to Surrey Quays complex from Greenland Dock and you’re following the pedestrian signs then you’ll probably walk through the pedestrian subway that runs under this bascule bridge.
I’ve included a rough guide below to give you a basic overview of the route. The general aim is to follow the Thames Path as much as possible so that you can take in the river views and avoid traffic.
There’s something about Rotherhithe village that makes it feel like a oasis of calm, quite removed from the traffic, noise and general hustle and bustle of London. Rotherhithe’s peninsular location probably helps make the area feel a little remote and very relaxed. In actual fact, it is well connected to the rest of the city, both Bermondsey and Canada Water tube stations are a short stroll away and the Rotherhithe Overground station is just a couple of minutes walk. If time allows, I’d recommend walking in from London Bridge, along the Thames Path, taking in the Thames and city views.
The historic centre of Rotherhithe Village centres around St Mary’s church. The current church dates from 1716 but there has been a church on site for more than 1,000 years. Just across from the church, on the riverfront, is the Mayflower Pub (current building dates to 1780), its name a nod to a major historical event linked to Rotherhithe.
It was from Rotherhithe, very close to where the Mayflower pub now stands, that the Mayflower ship originally embarked to what is now the United States of America in July 1620. There were a few stops along the way, some planned and some un-foreseen (its intended companion ship, the Speedwell, was not structurally sound). Eventually the Mayflower set sail (alone) for North America with the Pilgrim Fathers in September 1620.
The ship’s captain, Captain Christopher Jones was a Rotherhithe local and lived in the area with his family. He returned (with the Mayflower ship) to Rotherhithe in the following year and sadly died soon after. He is buried in St Mary’s church (there is a commemoration to him inside the church that was moved from the previous church building).
It is in honour of the Mayflower ship that the pub changed its name from The Spread Eagle to the Mayflower in the 1950s. The pub is a great spot for food, with a menu that is more varied than most. The first floor restaurant overlooking the river is a popular dinner location (with both tourists and locals). We’ve found that it pays to book ahead. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find yourself a cosy spot around the bar to soak up the atmosphere. On a side note, apparently this is the only pub in the UK where you can purchase both UK and USA postage stamps.
A few steps from the Mayflower pub lies the Brunel Museum, the subject of an earlier post. The Brunel Museum organises combined boat & train Brunel themed tours (from Embankment) which is yet another interesting way to reach Rotherhithe village.
For a lighter meal or just a good coffee or tea break, the tiny Watchhouse cafe is a great option. The Watchhouse building is on St Marychurch St, directly opposite the church and is situated in the corner of the old St Mary’s churchyard which is now a secluded park. There is limited seating inside, with more tables outside on the edge of the park.
The watchhouse was used in the past (before the establishment of a metropolitan police force) by beadles (officers of the church) and residents whilst keeping watch over Rotherhithe. They were also on the look-out for grave robbers as cadavers (the fresher the better!) were quite a business in the past.
It is interesting to note that the building on the other side of the small park from the cafe is the Old Mortuary (now a community centre). The mortuary had capacity for both infectious and non-infectious bodies, a post mortem room and a means (a very large hook attached to the wall) of drip-drying bodies that were fished out of the Thames.
Finally I should mention Sands Film Studios which is situated in an old granary on St Marychurch Street. The studios are well known for their period costume collection and costume making workshop. I was lucky to be able to join a comprehensive tour of the building and all it houses during Open House weekend in September in 2017 where I discovered the Rotherhithe Picture Research Library on the ground floor. There’s even a theatre and a cinema!
All in all, there’s plenty to interest visitors in Rotherhithe Village, I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface.
The best known museum in SE16 would have to be the Brunel Museum. Situated in a particularly charming part of Rotherhithe, very close to the Thames, the museum makes use of structures used in the construction of the Thames Tunnel, the world’s first tunnel (under a navigable river), which was opened in 1843.
The shaft (which was ingeniously sunk from ground level to the underground depth of the tunnel for the tunnelling to commence) was made accessible in 2016 thanks to a beautifully designed staircase.
‘The Grand Entrance Hall’, as the sinking shaft is now known, is situated immediately above the Thames Tunnel which is now used by London Overground (to travel under the Thames between Wapping and Rotherhithe stations). The tunnel is occasionally open to pedestrian tours during scheduled TFL closures (for maintenance).
The tunnel was Marc Isambard Brunel’s final commission and lead to many other important projects for his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The engine house features a comprehensive display of the history on the Thames Tunnel and the Brunels.
The knowledgeable museum staff (volunteers!) are always on hand and happy to help paint a picture of the Brunels and their engineering feats. An informative video runs on the ground floor and there is a small cafe too.
Don’t forget to check out the rooftop garden (directly above the shaft), the site of frequent events including Midnight Apothecary.
Whilst its location in the Old Jamaica Business Estate (mixed in with self-storage and other commercial spaces in the rail viaducts close to the Abbey Rd end) doesn’t look too warm and inviting, it does seem fitting given this outlet’s main purpose of functioning as a development test kitchen for the Bone Daddies group during the week. Lucky for us this Bone Daddies opens as a restaurant on the weekend (Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays until 8 pm).
Once inside you’re in a warm, casual and inviting space. The menu isn’t large but it is a good combination of newish items alongside tried and tested favourites.
I do like to try out other ramen options but somehow find myself returning to the soy ramen on a regular basis. I also can’t go past the kimchee and the beautifully crisp tenderstem broccoli with that delicious mayo (also works well with the fried chicken).
The only thing that could make Bone Daddies Bermondsey better is to be open for business during the week! At the time of writing (a cold & windy Wednesday evening) all that I want is a bowl of warming soy ramen… and some of that kimchee.
Spa Terminus is a relaxed and pleasant Saturday (only) market along the railway viaduct arches that run through Bermondsey. The market comprises of around 25 interesting food & drink outlets that usually operate a wholesale business during the week. On Saturdays (9 am to 2 pm) these outlets are open to the public.
The majority of the outlets are concentrated around Spa and Dockley Roads, a short stroll from Bermondsey tube station. There are also some outlets along Druid St (mostly on the other side of the railway line to Maltby St Market). You’ll definitely recognise some names from Borough Market.
Spa Terminus gets both its name and space from what was once London’s first railway terminus, Spa Road Station. The station was inaugurated in early 1836 and was on the city’s first railway line, London & Greenwich. The railway’s final London terminus, London Bridge station, opened in December of the same year and so Spa Road became a station on the line. Over the years that followed there were some periods of closure and a relocation. Spa Road & Bermondsey station closed permanently in 1915. You can still see the facade of the final Booking Office (with the ticket windows bricked-in) from Priter Road (just off St James Street).
The Bermondsey area has had quite a history in food production with the sites of both Peek, Frean & Co biscuit factory (that gave the name “Biscuit Town” to Bermondsey) and the world’s first canning business situated very close to the Spa Road & Bermondsey station. There seems to still be a large number of food and beverage businesses in the area so its nice to see the Spa Terminus market making use of the rail viaduct area to bring a bit more life to the area on weekends.
The variety of food and drink products on offer is extensive, with outlets ranging from fresh fruit & vegetables, bakery, fresh and cured meats, cheese, coffee, ice-cream, gin and condiments.
The stall with a consistently long line is Little Bread Pedlar which is situated in the Spa South section, close to Spa Road. Sharing Arch 7 with Coleman Coffee, it makes a good spot for some immediate early morning sustenance to fuel your market expedition. Luckily the queue moves quite quickly.
For those wanting to replenish their coffee supply, there is also a small Monmouth outlet with a good variety of coffee beans which can be ground to specification or you can just order a coffee, of course.
The 2 fresh fruit and vegetable outlets both draw a bit of a crowd: Puntarelle (who are also open on Fridays for retail sales) & Natoora (the last outlet from Dockley Road) which has a good selection of fresh small-scale farm produce.
Other outlets that I find myself visiting on a regular basis are Neal’s Yard, St John’s bakery (especially since the closure of their pop-up shop on Bermondsey St) and The London Honey Company (for their extensive range of local runny and creamed honey).
O’Shea’s Butchery (veal burgers and great beef), The Ham & Cheese Co (for their excellent range of Italian salami and cheeses) and The Butchery (poultry and meats) are also well worth dropping by.
I haven’t tried all the outlets by any means. And I haven’t sampled all on offer at the stalls I find myself going back to. So, all in all, there’s still some exploratory work to be had here.
A quick follow-up to yesterday’s Southwark Park post as I was lucky to snag one of the 23,000 tickets to Southwark Council’s annual Guy Fawkes Fireworks Night on Sunday night. 2017 is the 14th year the council has put on this show, free to Southwark residents (residents from other boroughs are charged a small fee). This was my first ever Guy Fawke’s day celebration and I was not sure what to expect.
We arrived at just before 6 pm (gates opened at 5:30 pm) and with the entrance queue (ticket and bag inspection) moving quickly we were inside the main area by 6:15 pm.
There was more than ample entertainment, food and drink (including mulled wine!) to pass the time until the 7 pm fireworks show.
The fireworks lasted for about 15 minutes and were a pretty good show, particularly with the moon as a backdrop.
The crowd seemed to have enjoyed the evening’s convivial atmosphere. Put me on the list for next year!
Lovely Southwark Park was my first discovery in Bermondsey. It wasn’t difficult to stumble across as it is the largest green space in the area. I had heard of it before but never visited until we moved here. Now I am a regular visitor.
The park was one of the Metropolitan Board of Work’s first parks, with the purchase of the land and the passing of the Southwark Park Act in 1864. The park opened in 1869. In 1998 the park was granted £2.5 million from the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund towards refurbishment.
The bandstand is one of my favourite spots in the park. The current bandstand is a modern construction as the original (from 1884) was melted down during World War II (the park suffered a lot of damage during WWII). This current bandstand was modelled on the Clapham Common’s heritage listed original and formed park of the park’s 1998 refurbishment. It is a treat to see a concert in the bandstand during the summer months.
The park contains a number of other facilities including a cafe, Southwark Park Bowls Club, boating pond, gallery and formal gardens.
The Ada Salter Rose Garden is a more formal space within the park and is dedicated to Ada Salter (1866 – 1942), who, together with her doctor husband was dedicated to social reform and improving conditions for people living in the area. The Salters had earlier started the Bermondsey Beautification Committee which lead to street tree plantings in the area. Ada then went on to improve Southwark Park by ensuring that this colourful flower garden was provisioned.
I’m particularly enjoying the park’s autumnal hues at the moment.
This drinking fountain is located near the bandstand and is dedicated to Jabez West, a member of a local Temperance Society. The fountain was erected in the year of his death and paid for by public donations. I’ve seen a few mentions that this fountain is London’s first public memorial to honour a working class man.
These caryatids originally graced the Rotherhithe town hall (the building was converted to a library, then severely damaged during WWII and since demolished). They have been moved around the area a little and have been located here in the park since 2011. They are a definite favourite of mine.
I seem to notice something new on each visit to the park, often leaving with some other little part of its history to research further.