Twickenham’s Perfect Pub? What Would Orwell Say?

The crucial question of Twickenham’s best pub was recently discussed on twickerati. It’s a toughie, a real toughie. But one pub came out of that particular survey very well. It used to be a little bit crap; now it’s rather good. In this review feature, Twickenham resident, pub-goer and beer drinker Newcastle Martin gets to grips with whether the revamped Sussex Arms really is the perfect local pub. Here’s his view.

The Sussex, Twickenham

Twickenham’s Perfect Pub?
In 1946, George Orwell wrote a famous essay on the perfect pub. He nominated a local called the Moon Under Water, specifying its good beer, popularity with regulars, open fires, decent food, friendly service, the “comfortable ugliness” of its Victorian fittings, ample garden and lack of ‘rowdies’ and radio. The only problem was that the Moon Under Water never existed — or at least it didn’t until many years later Tim Martin of JD Wetherspoon fame gave that name to several of the chain’s pubs, thereby creating a modern dystopia Orwell might have satirised.

Of course, pubs and pub-goers have changed. Most of us no longer require the staff to sell us stamps, aspirins or liver sausage, for example, but for many of us the substance of Orwell’s wish-list remains relevant and his taste immaculate. A pub should be a place to drink, chat and pass the time pleasantly. It shouldn’t be compromised by drunks, brewing disasters, miserable staff, garish modern design or deafening sound levels.

And, further to the recent twickerati feature on local boozing options, the wonderful news is that here in Twickenham we have a remarkable pub that passes the Orwell test and is regarded as pretty near perfect by its many regulars. The Central in Gateshead is tremendous, Ye Olde Mitre off Hatton Garden in London is very characterful and of course there are many other places worth getting to know but, having invested over a quarter of a century in investigating the alternatives, I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a better-run pub than the Sussex Arms.

The extensive list of draft beers and ciders offers profound options from all over the country (and further afield by bottle) at lower-than-average prices. The people who work at The Sussex are sensationally good: smiling, offering tasting samples and happily tolerating the odd eccentric visitor. The food is terrific with special mention going to the pies with exquisite signature baked into crust to identify contents. Seating is comfortable and nicely weathered and the light shining into in the room through stained glass provides a perfect ambience.

This is a happy place. I’ve never seen dogs and children so welcome and owners and parents repay this faith by ensuring their pets and loved ones are kept respectively on the literal and metaphorical leash. For those that need the release valve, there is a surprisingly large, well-tended garden.

The details add grace notes. A loyalty card rewards regulars with a free 10th pint. Newspapers and Wi-Fi are provided gratis. Drinkers are offered a straight glass (an abomination to Orwell) or codger-style jug. There are board games, books and music (on vinyl!) at a volume appropriate for those who appreciate the golden age of rock and those that could have lived without it.

For all serious topers, this is a cathedral and miraculous discovery capable of bringing on an overwhelming sense of wellbeing. Sitting on a Christmas Eve lunchtime, listening to Bob Dylan and The Band perform Lay Lady Lay while I nursed a deeply satisfying pint of Mordue’s splendidly named Howay In A Manger, I felt quite suddenly a bond of empathy with the amiable black Labrador lying by the open fire, occasionally exhaling contented sighs (the dog, not me, but it was a close-run affair).

This is as close to heaven as most of us are likely to get: a space to contemplate the passing of the day in good company and ignore the noisy, brutish outside world. All this, and The Sussex is handily located next to a stop serving the 490, H22 and 110 buses — O fortunate routes! A newsagent and bookmaker are also at hand and there are grocery shops for those combining a covert pint with a shopping expedition. If you have boundless ambition and are seeking a crawl of it, it’s easy to visit other very good local pubs, The Rifleman and The Prince of Wales. In a strategic decision to be applauded there is no TV at the Sussex but sport viewers craving a screen can take the short stroll to one of two Fuller’s houses, the Prince Albert and Prince Blucher.

The Sussex is all the better for not being some twee destination or museum-like space festooned with preservation orders or blue plaques listing dead people that have passed through its doors. It sits on the busy Staines Road in a building that would never stop a modern-day Pevsner. And of course pedants might detect some grit in the oyster: some criticise the lack of a regular house beer. In a bid to demonstrate even-handedness, I would add that the bar is sometimes sticky and you can’t always get a seat when it’s busy, which is most evenings. But really, this is as near to perfection you’re going to find in a modern pub.

It’s impossible to know how Orwell would feel on the subject of Toots and the Maytals on the turntable and The Sussex does not appear to offer its ale in china crockery as the great man enjoyed but, were he alive today and blessed to be living in TW2 rather than north London or Jura, he would surely have supped here and appreciated the sheer civility of this place. Twickenham is lucky indeed to have this glorious enclave where, for a few coins, the cares of the shoddy universe can be left at the door.

* twickerati item on Twickenham’s best pub
* The Sussex is at: 15 Staines Road, Twickenham TW2 5BG; 0208 894 7468.

[Newcastle Martin (not entirely his real name) is a Twickenham local whose only affiliation with The Sussex is that of very satisfied customer]


Filed under Features, Food & Drink, Reviews

22 responses to “Twickenham’s Perfect Pub? What Would Orwell Say?

  1. Paul B.

    The Sussex has filled a void left for me by the passing of the White Hart in Hampton some 3 or 4 years ago. The formula’s the same. Good beer, staff that care, service with a smile, reasonable prices, no distracting TV screens, music at a volume that doesn’t provoke the customers to shout at each other! They clear up around you without fuss, open fires in the winter, a large garden for the summer. Getting a seat is not as easy as it was in The White Hart, but the food (and even the bar snacks) make up the lost ground. It’s a 15 min. walk for me, so I even get a bit of exercise to sharpen the thirst! Let’s hope it stays as it is for a long time to come – in the hands of people who know how a good pub should be run.

  2. Cleversaz

    Just at the time the Eel Pie and The Bear went right downhill, along came The Sussex and made everything alright again. It’s the closest pub to our house and has been ignored for the nine years I’ve lived here. I can’t believe the difference, old and new are poles apart. I agree with the ‘best pub in Twickenham’ moniker, it has everything going for it. The White Swan is and always has been (well, since Steve Roy left) a clique pub with vile toilets and an unwelcoming atmosphere. Long live the new Sussex, it just goes to show that if you do it right, they will come.

  3. Richard C

    Agree, the Sussex is a first class pub and the range and quality of cask ale superb. It deserves to do well. Don’t care much for the White Swan apart from the location, seems to be run by complete amateurs and I’ve yet to have a decent pint there….

  4. rickyandbianca

    The Sussex is a great boozer and local (very) for me BUT it needs to be careful that it does not attract serious beer heads and their bellies each and everyday that drink and don’t eat. This means there is very little room to grab a seat and eat their truly wonderful food which is a shame as I feel the balance is leaning a little too much towards the beer customers. Yes I know that’s what makes this boozer but its also the only decent pub in Twickenham that serves outstanding food and its frustrating when you cant actually go there to eat. Perhaps the summer will solve this with the garden…

  5. Cracking pub, let’s hope it keeps up the Orwellian standards. Agree with comments re. The White Swan, they could learn a thing or three from The Sussex (or maybe just from reading hyperlocal blogs).

  6. andrew hilton

    but the best food by far in town is the bloomsbury so carry on dont stop at the sussex on the same buses two more stops and here is the gem of the town

  7. Con O'Brien

    well done the Sussex

  8. John, Twickenham

    Whoever said “The White Swan’s lovely” ? It’s a pretentious, overpriced little dive, with disgusting outside gents.

    • Simon H

      Define pretentious. It’s a sweet pub by the river. No more, no less.

    • Horace Walpole

      Absolutely right, John. If it wasn’t in such a stupendous location, it would be the last pub anyone would want to visit. The toilets are truly foul, the owners seem to think the bar area is their own private fiefdom for entertaining their friends, the other staff are usually rude and off-hand (with one notable exception, but I shan’t name her) and the food is over-priced and of variable quality.
      As a measure of its awfulness, I have even been known to walk right past it on a hot and thirst-making day and on to the Barmy Arms!

    • cranky

      Its not as bad as the Barmy Arms 😉 That is the definition of a dive/ waste of space etc. Real shame too with the location.

      White Swan is nice when the sun’s out and before you break the seal. But otherwise its freezing and has toilets fesivals would be ashamed by.

    • Gary Edward Knowles

      The White Swan is my favourite pub…and I don’t drink. It is dirty, cramped, and earthy. But I love it. It’s authentic.

    • Boss

      Earthy? With the bright lighting and pale blue paint work? And the ridiculous cage for the white wine (granted, this has gone now but the horror of it still hovers)? A sad attempt at going gastro a few years ago washed away earthiness about the place, I’m afraid.

  9. Boss

    People used to talk about the White Swan like this a couple of years ago. What a mess was made of that pub.

    • Simon H

      The White Swan’s lovely!

    • Boss

      It’s in a nice spot. It also used to be a great pub and won best pub in London not that long ago. But it’s not even an also-ran for best pub in Twickenham now. Shame.

    • Horace Walpole

      Went into the White Swan at 5:15 today (yes, I know). Two customers in the bar, barman on his mobile. He walks out of the front door while we wait, comes back in, still on his mobile, ignores us. After 3 more minutes, we walk out and on to the Fox.
      Says all you need to know about the Swan, really.

  10. Anonymous

    Newcastle Martin certainly does like that pub. We can never get him to come over to our pub for a change.
    He’s the Albert Tatlock of Twickenham

    Mind you, it’s a very nice pub. Reasonable prices too.

  11. The Sussex is at:
    15 Staines Road, Twickenham TW2 5BG; 0208 894 7468;

    [twickerati: good point, well made. And now added to the main text]

  12. Russell C

    Great pub and the dog loves it the fact he keeps dragging me in there!

  13. John, Twickenham

    I have to agree, what was once probably the worst Pub in Twickenham has turned into the best. The Sussex is a gem.

  14. I’ve not been pubbing much recently, but based on the few times I’ve been to the Sussex, and the views of friends who drink there (and some who work there), it seems like the best pub we’ve had around here for a long time. For me personally, I would have to go back to the early Clubhouse days nearly 10 years ago, or way back to the Hogshead days and the Eel Pie days in the early 90s. That’s as far as my knowledge stretches. Plenty others will take you back further no doubt. The Sussex ticks all the boxes. Good piece, well done, and they deserve the plaudits.