The Half Moon, Herne Hill, London: hotel review | Travel
Dylan Thomas drank here and may have stumbled upon the title for Under Milk Wood while standing in the pub doorway and looking across the street to the sign for Milkwood Road, which is still there. In its heyday, U2, the Police and Van Morrison played the Half Moon’s back room, and even Frank Sinatra once gave an impromptu set when he popped in to see his chauffeur.
But by the time it closed in 2013, after being flooded by a burst water main, the old pub was more notorious than famous, a soulless den of dodgy London geezers swilling vapid lager. It was boarded up for nearly four years, but the walls of this grand late-Victorian pile hold too much history, it was too dear a local landmark and, crucially, it sits in too affluent an area of south London to stay closed for long. Its cracking location is between cool Brixton and leafy Dulwich Village, and it’s on the doorstep of Herne Hill station (less than 15 minutes to Victoria and the City), and Brockwell park and lido.
It was bought by London brewery Fuller’s and reopened in March this year as a pub/restaurant/hotel. It’s clear a great deal of thought, attention to detail and several million pounds have gone into the revamp and the addition of 12 bedrooms.
On a Wednesday night, the bar restaurant and beer garden (bike racks, firepit, separate outdoor bar and, coming soon, a barbecue shack) are all humming with locals.
It’s Grade-II listed status means the old front bar has been returned to something very close to the original Jacobean revival design, heavy with dark wood and leaded windows. Even more impressive as a work of preservation is the semi-private snug, where six back-painted mirrors depicting aquatic birds have been restored after being damaged in the flood. The four bars offer a wide selection, with de rigueur local craft beers alongside the Fuller’s roster. My Canopy Brockwell IPA is an excellent pint – strong and hoppy yet without the cloying zest that puts me off many craft ales. And so it should be at £5.90.
Interior designers Concorde BGW has showcased the high ceilings, marble fireplaces and leaded windows of the original architecture, while still having fun individually decorating the 12 bedrooms, which are named after the only 12 astronauts to have walked on the moon – with that attention to detail apparent in the corresponding biography of each spaceman sitting on the bedside tables.
I’m in Irwin, one of the larger bedrooms, with a copy of the eighth moonwalker’s Destination Moon, well-chosen mismatched furniture (tastefully battered office furniture, acres of reclaimed wood), tall pot plants, six smoked glass light fittings dangling down over the huge comfy bed, bold House of Hackney wallpapers, (fluorescent orange in my room – which looks so much better than it sounds) a Nespresso machine, Teapig teabags and a Bluetooth Marshall speaker loud enough for the guy in the next room to ask me to turn the music down.
One niggle: a big drawback of converting such a fabulous listed old building is that double glazing is prohibited, so there’s a constant, but not too sleep-depriving hum from the busy, five-way junction outside the window.
Music lovers may mourn the loss of a famous London venue, but it’s gastro-pub grub, rather than music, that pulls in the modern punter and the designers have also done the business in in the huge airy restaurant. It’s the food that worries me, however. My friend and I had a fair-to-good dinner but given the prices were disappointed at the dry texture of the pig’s cheek starter (£8.50) and pork belly main (£17). Neither lacked flavour but cooked well both dishes should have succulence.
I really like the pub though and popped in on another night for a pint and a bite. When I asked the barmaid for my burger to be cooked medium rare, she said it only came well done. When I asked why, she said she didn’t know.
A clue to why, perhaps, is revealed on the Fuller’s website: the Chalcroft Farm Beef Burger may sound homely but, like the pork belly and pig’s cheeks, the dish appears word for word on many of the chain’s other pub menus across the south-east.
I live in London. I expect to pay through the nose. But for a £12.50 burger, I want juice dripping down my chin, not a dry, slightly gristly patty.
Hats off to Fuller’s for bringing this grande dame back to life. Just three months after opening it’s once again a buzzing hub of the local community, and the rooms are fabulous. But, for food, there are half a dozen more interesting restaurants right on the doorstep.
• Food and accommodation was provided by the Half Moon (doubles from £112.50 B&B, 020-7616 5276, halfmoonhernehill.co.uk)
Ask a local
The Dulwich Picture Gallery is the oldest gallery in England in beautiful grounds. The setting is as visually appealing as the old masters hanging on the walls inside. It has regularly changing exhibitions, a new summer pavilion and frequent festivals, including our own London School’s Festival of Books. It’s worth taking a picnic and staying for the day.
Go to the Brockwell Lido. There is nothing better than outdoor swimming in a huge pool except, possibly, sitting next to it in the lido cafe, drinking excellent coffee. If you want to feel as though you’ve been on holiday without leaving London, Brockwell Lido is the package.
My favourite walk is through the Sunday farmers market in Station Square, collecting several pastéis de nata and a lamb burger on my way, and on around Brockwell park. It’s full of activity and interesting things (the aforementioned lido, at every turn but also large enough to find a quiet place to savour a half-eaten pastry.