The Ship is known as a "destination" pub. Not because you'd cross London to eat there – though you might, and you'd do well to – but because it's miles from anything. It lies on a silty, sallow U-bend in the river, and the cars swoosh yonder over Wandsworth Bridge and the water slops beneath it. It's a dead, desolate zone; the landscape is as battered and past-it as Detroit – and yet, weirdly, that splendid isolation turns out to be the source of its charm.
A couple of hundred years ago, when they built it, a road ran alongside (whether the oddly Dickensian Jews Row or not, I don't know). It was a pub at a hub, a villagey inn. The phone box in the garden – a modern replica, apparently – was there when they bricked off the road and amputated the pub from civilisation. To compensate and bring in the punters, the owners have updated the place freely and tastefully over the years: there's a languid patio, a bright conservatory, a barbecue outside and a space-age metal buttock-warmer in the main room, which are all welcome. They asked me along. (The owners, not the decorations.) I brought some blogging friends, and the day was a reminder how setting, welcome, service and company can raise a meal beyond the sum of its parts.
I've complained before about the base venality of the average gastropub, but The Ship does what it does with diligence and self-respect. Pubs, as you know, are emptying faster than a dog with dysentery, and a site like The Ship's will either kill it or save it – if you're tempted in, you're not going anywhere else. There's a striking attention to detail here: the crockery is pretty and ripply and not on my wedding list, the wine list thoughtful and fairly priced. They make their own bread and they grow lemon thyme and fennel in raised beds outside. And, on the whole, their food is far better than most gastropubs – though the presentation can be daft, artless and faffy.
We kicked off with an amuse of foie gras terrine rolled in hazelnuts with a slick of apple chutney and a sliver of dried apple – all fantastic. I had pork rillettes rolled in Parma ham with some infanticidally tiny onions. It looked like the rabbi spasmed while circumcising, but it tasted claggily brilliant: oinky and pointy and proud. An open raviolo of artichoke with scallops and prawns was terrific.
Mains weren't quite as good: revised surf 'n' turf came with pig's cheeks instead of steak, and though these were decently gelatinous they had a sweaty, barnyardy mouthfeel, just the wrong side of unpleasant. Prawns flanked them like kitsch, dead sentries; and in truth, I've never been convinced of the wisdom of pairing crustacea with hunks of meat. The components of my main – duck breast with more foie, a wild mushroom sauce and a puffy vol-au-vent – were excellent but looked like the aftermath of Culloden. Someone in that kitchen is far too keen with a knife: they cut my duck into bite-sized morsels as though I were a toothless incontinent. And it's true I often am, but usually after lunch, not in the middle of it.
It seems a shame now that we were too full for pudding, or that we missed it because the lovely wine or the friendliness and generosity of our host distracted us. But we rolled home sated and merry. I can't think of anywhere nicer to sit and giggle away a hot summer's day with beers and the barbie, or in the pretty skylit dining room where the food is far above the dross. Its ridiculous plating aside, The Ship is a gem: deft, dextrous cooking in a smart, comfortable, secluded setting. And I'm going back on my own dollar, so there.
The Ship, 41 Jews Row, SW18
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Tel. +44 (0)20 8870 9667
Starters a little over a fiver, most mains £10 - £15