Pub review: The Builders Arms, Chelsea

With the Cubitt House group going from strength to strength, Tristan O’Hana experiences a potential new direction for the London outfit.

Cubitt House continually turns heads. Whether it’s through any one of its eight London pubs and their superlative aesthetic, service and offer, or via the Cotswolds and its Country Creatures proposition of open-fire cooking at Double Red Duke, this is a group that just seems to get things right… in my humble opinion, anyway. 

Led by husband-and-wife team Sam and Georgie Pearman, and assisted by the back-of-house brilliance of chef director Ben Tish, these ‘things’ that Cubitt seems to get right are the quintessential qualities of a modern-day pub, blended with design and fitouts respectful to the stunning buildings that they own and the history within their walls. At each Cubitt House site that I’ve visited (and I think that’s about all of them now), there has, first and foremost, always been an experience of a classic pub with great food and drink. This is then balanced delicately with contemporary touches, a considered split of the bar and restaurant areas, and unique atmospheres attributable to the autonomy afforded to the general managers leading each venue. 

It’s that final point that led to me treading the lesser-walked pavements (for me, anyway) of the King’s Road in Chelsea last month, dodging eponymous tractors and wealthy shoppers on my way to The Builders Arms, which sits a couple of streets off the famous road. It was there I was meeting Cubitt GM George Dean, who had taken over The Builders that very day, tasked by the Pearmans with overseeing its operations alongside his other venue The Barley Mow in Mayfair. I suppose leading the latter to the London Pub & Bar of the Year title at the 2023 National Pub & Bar Awards showed the bosses he may know what he’s up to.

The Builders Arms dining room

Dean was keen for us to come and check out this Chelsea outpost, not to celebrate his promotion, but to showcase the nuances and differences between this Cubitt site versus the others. Due to its smaller size, it immediately delivers more of the ‘classic pub’ feel mentioned already, but still offers that measured zoning between where you drink and have bar snacks and where you sit to dine. The night I visited, the lights were low, the fire was on and the bar was stocked up on Monster Munch and Mars Bars. If it weren’t for the fact we were booked in for food on the other side of the bar, I could have happily settled in with a bag of crisps and some perfectly kept pints of Deya Brewing’s Steady Rolling Man Pale Ale – just a couple, mind, as they’re going for more than £8 a pour. 

But booked in we were. Adjacent to the pub side of The Builders Arms is the restaurant space, adorned with minimal, dark wooden furniture, red banquette seating and a twinkling selection of tea lights. It’s obviously a space to eat, but it does feel more attached to the pub atmosphere that, thanks to the central bar, is still palpable. When you combine that with the paper napkins, blackboard-style menu and Jimi Hendrix being piped in through the speakers, this feels like a no-frills equivalent to the Cubitt House I’ve come to know. But, my word, it still delivers. 

Another key kitchen linchpin within the group is Richard Sandiford who, I’m told, has created the fine-looking menu that is proudly set before us on an empty seat. It feels like there are more places doing this style of food communication at the moment, particularly in London. Sandiford’s CV lists posts at Hawksmoor, Blacklock, Meatopia… you get the idea, and at The Builders Arms he has created a selection of small, medium and large plates that reads beautifully from start to finish. If it weren’t for the fact that the blackboard would soon be needed in front of other diners, I would have been choosing from it for some time. However, as a guest for the evening, I’m told the kitchen will send out a varied selection for us. Off we go then.

Steak and ale suet pie with mash and gravy

There are six options from the smalls and for the time it took to pour a couple of glasses of Cotes du Rhone Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2020, two of these dishes had been placed on the table. The Jerusalem artichoke fritters with truffle mayo (£6) are a solid option for veggies and carnivores alike, but the latter would be much happier with the spiced lamb sausage roll (£7), which comes with the beautiful dipping option of Cubitt House’s Chop Sauce. If you’ve opted for a meaty journey, then you may as well get your head down and keep going right into the medium plates. The Angus steak tartare (£10/18) is superior to so many others I’ve tried thanks to the centimetre-thick layer of pecorino that covers it entirely. A wonderful combination. As is the bacon ribs with their creamy apple, tamarind and fennel slaw (£12) – in hindsight, we should have ordered another plate of those.

From the larger side of things, the mini macaroni with fava beans (£17) was a perfectly happy and light option, with the earthy, nutty beans still offering enough sustenance for it to act as a main, but the steak and ale suet pie with mash and gravy (£22/40) was the choice that cemented this definitive pub grub experience. The only question would be, with the pastry only acting as a lid to the glorious filling beneath, is it actually a pie?

As if all of the above wasn’t enough to guarantee a snooze-induced missed stop on the train home, before I headed back to Sloane Square tube, a sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream arrived, accompanied with two glasses of Cubitt’s sloe gin. An aptly named digestif, given the speed at which I’d be operating for the rest of the evening.   

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