The Churchill Arms could win a Britain in Bloom competition single handedly. In fact, I think it actually has. In summer, the outside of the 200 year old pub is festooned with so many hanging baskets of flowers that the brickwork of the pub is barely visible. At Christmas time the baskets are replaced with dozens of Christmas trees in a cheery festive display. The over the top decoration continues inside the pub where every spare centimetre of ceiling and wall space is covered with prints of the Queen mother, hurling memorabilia, a collection of chamber pots or a stuffed owl. It certainly makes for a slightly kooky but cosy atmosphere.
The Churchill Arms – bedecked with hanging baskets
At the back of the pub in an indoor conservatory area which resembles a mini hanging gardens of Babylon, lies the pub’s Thai restaurant. Thai restaurants are commonplace in London pubs now but The Churchill Arms take on the concept is a cut above the general offering because the Thai food on offer is genuinely spicy rather than being watered down for English palates. In a nod to the mounted butterflies on the walls and general tropical ambience of the conservatory, the exact heat of each dish is indicated on the menu by a series of butterflies ranging from one butterfly for spicy, two for hot and three for very hot. Even a one butterfly dish is enough to make you gulp down your accompanying beer, a shrewd move by the publican. I was just excited to find a Thai restaurant where very hot actually means, very hot.
Another major plus is that the prices at The Churchill Arms are bargain basement. All the mains are uniformly priced at £7.50 which makes the process of budgeting and any splitting of the bill thankfully simple. The food is admittedly missing some of the subtleties of really good Thai cooking but the authentic heat and low prices make the pub worth a visit.
Dining in the conservatory area is like eating in a mini version of the hanging gardens of Babylon
Spring rolls (£4.50) were obviously bought in rather than made on the premises as they lacked a bit of bite and crunch but they were at least well fried to a crisp, golden brown finish. However, the kaeng kiew waan (£7.50), a so-hot-it-will-make-you-sweat green coconut curry featuring bamboo shoots, fresh Thai basil, peppers and some rather random green peas was really excellent. It was served with a generous helping of fluffy rice which was included in the price.
From the less spicy end of the spectrum, the khao pad (£7.50) reminded me more of a Chinese fried rice dish with the slightly crunchy rice dotted with slivers of chicken, fried egg and spring onions and doused in soya sauce. It was not in the same league as the curry, but good enough for pub Thai food.
I have been to The Churchill Arms several times over the years and the quirky atmosphere always amuses me while the spice in the food feeds my chilli addiction. Admittedly, it is just another pub doing Thai food, but it does it better than most.
Details: The Churchill Arms, 119 Kensington Church Street, Kensington W8 7LN (Ph 020 7727 4242) Tube: Notting Hill Gate.
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve.
If you liked reading this you might be interested in my review of 101 Thai Kitchen or of Garden Grill for more on my search for good Thai food in London.