The Alma, Wandsworth, London

“One thousand times more fun than a chain hotel”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 20th April 2011.

I used to push a pram past The Alma. Time and again, on a well-trodden circuit – left into Alma Road, downhill past The Alma, along Old York Road, left again up the hill and home, while the contents of the pram did his best to disturb the peace and I did my best each evening to send him to sleep, employing motion as my last hope.

Nearly 30 years on, I can now window-shop along Old York Road, but in those days it was a dingy street, notable only for its station, Wandsworth Town. Still, I always liked the Victorian Alma on the corner, directly opposite the station entrance. Built in 1866 and named to commemorate the Crimean Battle of Alma in 1854, it's a classic of its kind, with its shiny green tiles and domed roof.

Not long after I stopped walking past and moved away, the pub was renovated. Four pokey rooms became one impressive one, with a large circular bar in the centre; a lovely white plasterwork frieze was revealed and renovated, as were the solid mahogany staircase, woodwork and fin de siècle mosaics. A fine example of the great London pub boom that took place at the end of the 19th century, The Alma flourished once more.

Nowadays, of course, it's not just the neighbourhood pub it was, but also a restaurant. So you get all sorts at the crowded Alma: chaps in pinstripes propping up the bar and blokes in overalls arguing on the pavement after watching the football on a huge drop-down screen. Food is served in the dining room behind by busy waitresses from a kitchen open to view and a country-style pine table that doubles as a work station. Bar and dining spaces interact well; in either room everyone is happy.

Fiona's Choice

WHAT TO DO

The Alma has no parking, so you must park in the street (payment starts at 9.30 until 4.30pm; free at weekends). To make up for this, and to encourage people not to bring their cars, the Alma provides guests with amazingly comprehensive information on walking and cycling in the area (including cycle hire, routes, directions and maps), plus detailed information on public transport, taxi and car hire. If you want trees, it's an easy (though uphill) walk to Wandsworth Common or Clapham Common, a little farther away, or to the river.

WHERE TO SHOP

Fulham and Chelsea are just across the river but if you want small upmarket boutiques, walk to Northcote Road (around 20 minutes) or, a little farther away at the edge of Wandsworth Common, is Bellevue Road. Stop for a cup of tea in the café in the middle of Wandsworth Common.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

For a genuine, old-fashioned London pub, try The Cat's Back (86-88 Point Pleasant, SW18), 10 minutes' walk away towards Putney Bridge, by the river. For a decent cup of coffee, try Café Couleur (32 Webbs Road; parallel with Northcote Road), a French coffee shop popular with the many French residents in the area. For fish and chips, there's fabulous Brady's (www.bradyfish.co.uk), in Old York Road, and for a blowout dinner, go to Chez Bruce (020 8672 0114;www.chezbruce.co.uk), a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bellevue Road.

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
5 out of 5

Quiet; Garden Room is great for families

Service
4 out of 5

Friendly and helpful; evenings are on the crowded and rushed side

Character
3 out of 5

Great choice for businesspeople: 1,000 times more fun than a chain hotel

Food and drink
4 out of 5

Good gastropub fare but expensive

Value for money
4 out of 5

At current prices, rather than rack rates: superb

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