Whenever anyone mentions The Phene in Chelsea, they usually also refer to the legendary footballer George Best (1946 – 2005) but this pub’s history goes back much further.
Opened in 1851 and named after one Dr. John Samuel Phene, who championed the advent of tree lined streets, this renowned haunt of Marianne Faithful and Anita Pallenburg was the location where Best, whose drink of choice was white wine, chose to propose to his second wife, Alex Pursey, in 1995. At this point the pub was run by live-in landlord Wesley Davis and his wife Carmen but after his death, she is said to have “struggled” to manage it. Ultimately Kensington & Chelsea Council stripped her of the pub’s licence and The Phene Arms closed in 2006.
The Phene subsequently became part of the empire of the Bourne family. Robert Bourne, a property and leisure entrepreneur, and his wife Sally Greene Bourne OBE, whose recognizable numberplates “2 BE” and “NOT 2B” reflect their ownership of one of London’s finest theatres, The Old Vic, also own and operate Ronnie Scott’s, the Cheyne Walk Brasserie and the Waterloo Bar & Grill.
After a substantial renovation of the building, The Phene, as it was renamed, reopened in June 2010 with the Bournes' then 23-year old daughter, Lily, at its helm.
The comfortable bar area at The Phene
Complete with a stylish outdoor garden with comfortable sofas and hanging basket chairs, on-site deli and café and a first floor boutique selling Lily Bourne’s “Lily London” fashion label, this is far more than just a standard “gastropub.”
Invited by Hugo Taylor, who handles the marketing of The Phene as well as being one of the stars of E4’s Made in Chelsea, I took a pub-loving friend to try out the menu on the last day of November. At 1.30pm, the place was predominately the haunt of property developers and estate agents, but a smattering of stereotypically colourful Chelsea locals added to the buzz.
Hugo Taylor - The Phene's marketing manager and inspiration for the "Hugo Taylor Bellini Mojito"
The menu focuses on traditional fare such as fish and chips, burgers and chicken and mushroom pie (all at £12.50) and I opted to begin with a crispy filo of duck with plum sauce and a walnut salad whilst my companion enjoyed a traditional Caesar salad with salmon (both at £7.95). Both portions were generous and deserving of a mention in despatches.
To follow I tried a Maryland crab cake with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce (£14.50). The crab cake itself was excellent but the hollandaise was sadly slightly tepid and the accompanying skinny fries could have been done with having been cooked in fresher oil. My companion’s 28-day rib eye steak with green beans and béarnaise sauce was vastly better and perfectly cooked.
After a chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream (£6.50) that was perfectly presented, we finished with a sharing “deli platter” of British and French cheeses. Served with warm bread, biscuits and chutney, the portion was frankly the largest I’ve ever seen and could easily have fed five. The cheese passed my room temperature test and concluded the meal most pleasingly.
Sally Greene Bourne OBE - The inspiration for the "Sally Greene Apple Martini"
The drinks list plainly is something the management have put their heart into. The menu includes a “Hugo Taylor Bellini Mojito” made with Havana Especial, Archers, peach purée, mint, lime and sugar that is topped with prosecco (£9.50), a “Lily Blue” made with Absolut, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, crème de mûre, crème de framboise and apple juice (£9) and a Sally Greene apple martini made with Absolut, apple liqueur, fresh apple and apple purée (£9). Wines are available by the glass and bottle and start at £4.70 a glass and £18 a bottle for a 2009/2010 Bergerie de la Bastide white and rise to £78 for a 2003 Brunello di Montalcino.
On the 16th August 2011, the Evening Standard reported that The Phene would close after “frequent complaints from residents about noise and traffic.” The article stated that an application had been made to turn the building into a family home complete with swimming pool and sauna.
On the 24th August, Hugo Taylor, himself, took to Twitter to announce that The Phene is “not closing” and this was just “a nasty rumour.” In view of my recent meal there, I very much hope that this is indeed the case as London really doesn’t need to lose neighbourhood venues that are as good as The Phene.
The Phene, 9 Phene Street, London, SW3 5NY. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7352 9898. Website: http://www.thephene.com
Follow The Phene on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ThePheneSW3