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Ye Olde Mitre Reviews



View London Review

Independent On Sunday Review

Ultimate Pub Guide Review

Mitre Pub Review

This oldie (established 1546) is only accessible through a narrow passage – incongruously described as 25m long. Still, the Mitre needs no yard conversion or ‘ye olde’ embellishment to prove its worth. Walk into its venerable, cramped three-room space, see what’s on as the guest ale (Orkney Dark Island on our visit) then settle down amid the portraits of Henry VIII and sundry beruffed luminaries. The taps of Adnams Bitter and Broadside, Deuchars and Guinness will be easier to pick out than the extended history in small type lining the hatch of the bar counter. The handful of wines – Chilean San Rafael merlot, La Serre cabernet sauvignon – are well priced at under £15. There are stand-up tables in the courtyard too.


The View London Review

Review by Kris Emery 11/05/2010
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Historical and homely, Ye Olde Mitre delivers a slice of the past dished up with an affable atmosphere. This down to earth drinking den is definitely one to hunt down in Hatton Gardens.

The Venue
With religious roots as the tavern for the Bishop of Ely’s men and a past dating back to 1546, the historical atmosphere is inescapable. A covered alley from Hatton Gardens jewellery quarter takes you away from 21st century glitz and back in time. Scarce natural light and deep wood pour darkness into the ancient cracks and crannies. Through a low doorway, you’ll find the back room with its fireplace and patterned carpet. It feels close and cosy, and cosier again is a tiny closet room to the side, big enough only for a close group of six or eight. If all this doesn’t take you back to an Elizabethan era, the outdoor men’s toilet certainly will.

The Atmosphere
As a weekday only place, the crowd is expectedly heavy at peak hours. The exceedingly knowledgeable yet down to earth staff are consistently good. They put people so at ease that it seems most punters have been coming here for years; some maybe centuries. Firmly an olde crowd, the air is utterly good natured.

The Food
Lunchtimes are jovial and lengthy, while after-work cheery hoards of gents fill the alleyways, leaning against beer barrels and scoffing the most traditional of bar snacks. When food prices in London still have pence on the end, it’s something of a rare sight to see. For the homemade bar food, though, sausages are 75p each and quartered Scotch sggs, pork pies with chutney and sausage rolls come in at just £1.60. Cheap toasted sandwiches cut into triangles complete the spread. And although lunch is the big meal time, service continues until they run out.

The Drink
Excelling as an alehouse, Ye Olde Mitre always has on at least six ales. Biscuity and light golden ale Discovery, a Fuller’s favourite, is joined by sturdy London Pride and toffeeish Deuchars on a permanent basis. The deeper malty Seafarer’s, £3.20 a pint, is another mainstay, but more unusual and seasonal guest ales regularly rotate, often with a monthly theme. As a real ale champion, beer festivals dot the calendar for Ye Olde Mitre, but despite impressive and changing variety, there are other good options for the uninitiated or unconvinced. For wine, the Trivento Pinot Noir (£13.30 a bottle) is dark and earthy, conjuring outdoor landscapes from whence it hails.

The Last Word
Somewhere to soak up London’s history without the feeling of it being flaunted, Ye Olde Mitre is a winner on tradition and service. If you like proper beer, the pub offers up ample choice and sound advice as if it were nothing. Effortless excellence in Ely Court.


The Independent On Sunday - Talk of the Town (1st February 2004)

There is a part of London so secret that it's not actually a part of London at all.  It's a part of Cambridgeshire.  It is the Mitre Tavern, which nestles in Ely Court, a tiny passageway off Hatton Garden.

The first Mitre Tavern was built on this site in 1546, to refresh the servants who worked at the Palace of the Bishops of Ely.  This magnificent residence was used by the bishops when they came up to town from Cambridgeshire, and boasted a vineyard and an orchard, as well as gardens, fountains and ponds.  So beautiful was it, in fact, that the bishops built a wall around it, to keep out those nasty little Londoners.  The community inside was then declared part of the mother county and this became a corner of some foreign city that would be forever Cambridgeshire.

And what a corner.  The strawberries they grew were considered the finest in London.  If you trust Shakespeare on fruit, that is: in Act Three of Richard III, the Duke of Gloucester says to the Bishop of Ely, "When I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there: I do beseech you, send for some of them." (A "strawberrie fayre" is still held for charity in Ely Place every June.)  Royals have been linked to the site in fact as well as fiction.  Elizabeth I used to visit her favourite Sir Christopher Hatton when he lived there (it was his garden that gave the street it's name).  In the front bar of the Mitre you'll find the preserved trunk of a cherry tree around which the Virgin Queen is said to have danced the maypole.

Another famous visitor to the pub was Dr Johnson, whose house is nearby.  The trenchant wit may not fly as it did in his day, but the food's up to scratch - the toasted sandwiches are a firm favourite with regulars.  Prices have gone up since the Ely Place feast of 1531, though, where among other items, 91 pigs were supplied at sixpence each.  Thirteen dozen swans (that's 156 in all) were on the menu as well, although no price is recorded for them, as they may have been given by the guest of honour, Henry VIII.

In 1772 the bishops sold the property to the Crown for £6,500 and decamped to Piccadilly.  Apart from the Chapel of St Ethaldreda round the corner (worth a visit in itself - It's where Henry VIII met his compliant Archbishop Cranmer), the Mitre is the only building which dates from the bishops' time.  Its licensing hours are dictated by the fact that the gates at either end of Ely Court are locked each end at 10 and the licence used to be issued not not in London but by the Cambridge justices.  Another activity in which London kept its nose out of the place was policing.  Bobbies refrained from entering Ely Place unless they were invited.

Those with no romance in their hearts will tell you that Cambridgeshire officially handed over jurisdiction of Ely Place to Camden Council sometime in the 1970's.  But I refuse to accept it.  I repeated an experiment that someone had successfully carried out in 1924, and posted an envelope addressed to "The Mitre Inn, 1 Ely Court, Holborn Circus, Cambridgeshire."  It was delivered two days later.  You know what they say - you can take the pub out of Cambridgeshire - or rather you can't.

Ultimate Pub Guide Review:

Genuine, authentic and legitimate are three words that can be used to describe Ye Olde Mitre, and the same three words are scarcely and tenuously used in depicting most other pubs of this age. Ye Olde Mitre is a small, dark and cosy Elizabethan alehouse that first opened its door to the boozing multitude in 1546. Its claim to be the oldest pub in London is questionable due to it technically being in a part of Cambridgeshire. Demolished and quickly rebuilt in 1772 on land owned by the Bishops of Ely, Cambridgeshire, the pub was originally built to intoxicate the servants at the Bishop's nearby London home.

A further questionable claim of the pub is that it was Dr Johnson's local. We're all aware that Dr Johnson lived nearby, but his love of pubs and beer surely meant he had more than one local.

Beware of head and body injuries in Ye Olde Mitre, as the ceilings are low and the rooms are small, dark and crammed with furniture and people. The furniture will be familiar to anybody who's been in a pub of this vintage before: harsh wooden upright seats that resemble electric chairs and solid wooden tables that look as through they were used to lay-out dead bodies in the local mortuary. A sign requests that furniture is not moved away from the authentic wood-panelled walls, and consequently there are chairs everywhere, most of which are accompanied by a mini-table like a child's desk.

Finding Ye Olde Mitre can be a challenge because it's located mid-way along an alleyway that connects Hatton Garden with Ely Place, the ends of which are covered and accessible via a doorway between two buildings. Look for the Bishop's Mitre picture above a doorway between two jewellers on Hatton Garden. Ye Olde Mitre seems to be a bastion of official, and unofficial, pub-walks, as the pub is quiet one minute and heaving the next when hordes of walkers with guidebooks swarm in.

The central bar is split between the two rooms and Ye Olde Mitre's snug is 'Ye Closet': a coffin-sized cubby-hole off the back room that is large enough for a single table and four very close friends. The overall effect of the pub is wonderful, but the tatty plates, as seen in every other mock-Elizabethan pub, lose credibility.

The women's toilets are upstairs in the Bishop's Room and the men's toilets are outside in the yard. It would be too temping to have the men's toilets in the Bishop's Room for fear of jokes about bashing it! The only hand-basin in the Men's is in the cubicle so be weary of pissing on your hands if somebody's taking a dump.

Probably desperately needed due to the dark interior, the backroom of the pub has a modern skylight (modern in the scheme of things); only the front of the pub has windows, of the medieval leaded type. The lampshades in the pub are 3D; 3D, that is, in an Elizabethan sense. The shades contain an ancient street scene with 'real' light shining from the windows, a novelty effect created by cutting a hole in the shade to represent the glass.

Mitre Review

To the north is Hatton Garden, the world-famous centre of the jewellery business, where another remarkable pub awaits us.  The shops offer a great choice of jewels and watches but it is best to avert your gaze unless you have a special relationship with your bank.  Keep your eyes open, however, for an old-fashioned street lamp on the right which marks the entrance to Ely Court.

The Olde Mitre, tucked away down a court-yard that leads into the elegant Ely Place, has a fascinating history.  It is a careful replica of a tavern built in 1546 for the servants of the Bishops of Ely who held sway over the area.  The bishops' diocese was Ely in Cambridgeshire and for centuries the pub was licensed not in London but by the Cambridge magistrates.  Although the rule is not enforced, the City of London Police should get permission from the licensing bench to enter the premises.

Ely Place was the centre of religious and political power.  John of Gaunt's 'This sceptr'd isle' speech in Shakespeare's Richard II was made there.  In 1576 the bishops' power was diluted when Sir Christoper Hatton took control of Ely Place.  A preserved cherry tree (around which Good Queen Bess is alleged to have danced) in the environs of the Mitre marks the boundary between the land leased to Hatton and the bishops' garden.  During the English Civil War the tavern was used as both a prison and a hospital.

The present pub has a small front bar and a larger back one, with beams, old settles and oak-pannelled walls.  The two bars are linked by a central serving area.  At busy times, drinkers spill out of the bars into the tiny area, with a few seats, between the pub and St Ethelreda's church, itself an interesting historical curio.  It is the only London church that has reverted to Catholicism since the Reformation.

Now take a wander back past St Paul's and through the heart of the City of London.  Pass the doors of the Bank of England itself and make your way to Lendenhall, where another excellent pub, the Lamb Tavern, awaits you.



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