I’ve walked past Fanny Nelsons – a traditional old East End boozer, just off Columbia Road – on many a wintery night and thought ‘that looks Christmassy and merry, I want to go in there’. So, in the first week of January I lured two unsuspecting ex-colleagues to venture out. On the coldest night I can remember, with everyone off the booze, on a diet and staying away from merry looking East London pubs.
Subsequently, the place was empty. And, it was freezing cold. The open fire was off (the chimney was blocked). and I’m not sure there’s any other form of heating. So I kept my coat and my scarf on the whole evening, which wasn’t very merry. But we had already ordered a bottle of red so I was there for the long-haul.
After a toilet trip (the toilets are lovely by the way, genuinely one of the nicest bathrooms I’ve ever been in – or any room, for that matter) I spotted a cosier looking spot on the other side, next to the (cold) open fire. We moved over there, out of the draught. We ordered food. We were happy.
UNTIL an insistent local called Jeff insisted on trying to light the fire, and nobody seemed bothered to stop him. Cue him demanding some paper (“COME ON, WHY DON’T YOU HAVE PAPER?!”) and then filling the whole room with thick black smoke – particularly the space around us, sitting right next to the bloody thing, with our food just arriving. My spicy lamb chops took on a distinctly burnt taste and we all started coughing so hard we had to move AGAIN, back to the draughty side, with our now cold food. I was very apologetic, because I dragged my friends here (and one of them is off the booze, so she didn’t even have the wine blanket I was getting cosy under). To be fair, the staff were apologetic too, and all three of them helped us carry the food back over and kept asking us if we were okay. We were fine, apart from the burning sensation when we breathed.
Now apart from that shit-show, and the lovely bathrooms, the food at Fanny Nelsons is actually rather good. I ordered the spicy lamb chops with mango salsa and mint yoghurt (this was a miserly smear, but they provided an extra pot on request). The chops were gorgeous – smoky (not sure how much was down to #firegate, as I shall now refer to it) with tender, pink flesh and charred (#firegate) fat that melted in the mouth. The corn fritters were a surprise order – the table next to us ordered them and they looked so good – like huge, gnarly like giant onion bhajis – we had to order them. The batter was crisp and the sweetcorn plump and juicy – gorgeous. I only wish the accompanying sauce, a yoghurt infused with West Indian hot pepper sauce, had had a little more kick. That might have kept us warm.
My friends got the cauliflower risotto – low-carb, good for all the January dieters. It was small but surprisingly filling, although very mild in flavour and lacking punch. For sides, we had the kale and charred courgette (nothing to do with #firegate this time) which was rather underwhelming – the kale was terribly salty, and crying out for lashings of butter, or to be crisped up in an oven. A portion of cheesy fries came prepared more like cheesy tots (no bad thing). These suffered the most from #firegate – with the cheese turning cold and coagulating within seconds. The one hot mouthful I stuffed in my face was great, though.
All in all, Fanny’s (as I like to call it) is a lovely little boozer if you’re in the area, with some great food options to boot. Just maybe not in January. When it’s freezing. And the fire is broken. And a local called Jeff is propping up the bar… #firegate.
32 Horatio Street
£72 for three, excluding service
Three out of five stars (thanks, Jeff)
PS sorry for the shit pics, again