A man is basically as faithful as his options.
- Chris Rock, Bigger and Blacker
Today marks the point at which Brockley's nightlife achieves critical mass. It will be possible to have a good night out in Brockley without having to think too hard or make too many compromises. If one place is packed, dead or shut, you will be able to head off in to the winter night in the confidence that Brockley now has a range of good options. Dismal pub crawls like this one are a thing of the past.
In Crofton Park, the consistently brilliant Jam Circus is complemented by the specialist Mr Lawrence and the refreshed Brockley Jack. In Ladywell, the Tavern hosts regular music nights. At the Lewisham end of the conservation area, the reborn Talbot is already picking up overwhelmingly positive reviews. The Wickham Arms has upped its game in the last year or two and in Telegraph Hill, Skehans has been joined by The Telegraph, while the delights of Honor Oak and New Cross are not far away, depending on which end of Brockley you live.
And now, right in the middle of all of that and in stark contrast to the Barge beerodrome, comes The Orchard - a new bar / kitchen on Harefield Road.
Last night, we met with the new owners of The Orchard, who were having a trial opening ahead of its formal debut, tonight.
Formerly Aquarium and, before that Ecosium, The Orchard is exactly what the area has always needed. A cosy, intimate place run by people who know what they're doing. We tried really hard to like the previous establishments and they always won points simply for existing, but they were deeply flawed - from the odd decor and the lumpy tables that you couldn't stand a wine glass on to the dodgy service and unhappy staff.
The team behind The Orchard (Emily and Ed) have taken the same space and without dramatically changing the layout, transformed its look and feel. Some of the original features remain, including the open kitchen and the fish tank (although it looks somewhat depopulated), but it feels entirely new.
For example, the entire back room used to be a dead zone - a place you would reluctantly go on the odd occasion that the front room tables were taken. With some redecoration, clever use of lighting and by removing the over-size wooden shelf that used to jut in to the room, it's been turned from a cold space in to a warm one. Where Aquarium stuffed the front room with awkward furniture, it's now clean and uncluttered. The blaring TVs are gone.
Emily and Ed both stressed that The Orchard is a bar first and a restaurant second. They want people to feel they can pop-in for a drink, rather than obligated to look at the food menu. Having said that, they've found a serious chef and the menu written up on the large chalk boards looks great.Ed may look like Tom Cruise, circa Cocktail, but beneath his dashing exterior quivers the belly of a real-ale drinker. He was visibly excited about the fact that he was free to sell whatever beers he liked and, alongside Adnams, is planning to stock nut-brown exotica. He'll also be open to suggestions from regulars.
The Orchard opens this evening until 11pm. Brockley Kate will be going gonzo later tonight - her report will follow.