IT’S not what it was, this newspaper lark, and the days of long boozy lunches in dark watering holes off Fleet Street – or West Street – are largely behind even the most hardened of hacks.

Perhaps for loyal readers and hard-pressed sub-editors, that’s for the best. All of which is to say your friendly Pubspy didn’t have time for my traditional lunchtime sharpener this week, so instead of a traditional boozer I felt a posh pub was the order of the day on a balmy evening.

Block, in St James’s Street, purports to be just that.

From the outside the ever-so-trendy, charcoal-grey exterior and understated signwriting might be taken for a red flag.

Will the air inside be rich with the smell of beard oil, and alive with discussions of musicians so hopelessly cool and unknown the patrons might as well be speaking a foreign language?

Are the rough-hewn wooden cubes on the street outside an indicator that the seating within will offer much for a well-filtered Instagram photo, but scant comfort for my tired posterior?

I needn’t have worried. The walls are fashionable but unfussy – bare brick here, 3D metal lettering there, a large black and white print of some 18th century fop by the window, with a rainbow paint smear across his face.

The black bar is long – always a good sign – and well stocked behind, with small-batch gins and aged single malts as well as a great wine list and craft beers flowing from stainless taps straight out of the wall.

The place advertises its “Craft on Draft” on the window so it seemed only fair to try one on for size – a pint of 4.5 per cent Island Records IPA, a little steeper than my usual fare at £5.40 but it is crafted by the Brighton Beer Collective and there’s no harm in putting a little back into the local economy.

It’s a crisp and tropical little number, a hoppy treat which was perfect as the sun began to sink and as I contemplated my second I was glad there were no deadlines still ahead of me.

My companion had a glass of a superb Chilean pinot noir, cracking value at £7.50 for 250ml. It was lovingly poured by Leroy, a good-looking and personable young man with an afro which would put Sideshow Bob to shame.

Later I overheard him saying that the secret is coconut oil, which apparently he uses “for everything”. Perhaps mercifully his list of its additional uses was lost as he re-entered the kitchen to pick up a food order.

Block boasts that it is pub, and bar, and hang-out, and restaurant too so it would have been rude not to grab a bite.

I toyed with the idea of the flat-iron steak, which looked good value for a tenner but genial host Simon wondered whether it would quite satisfy a hungry chap at the end of a long day.

The sirloin I chose instead was hardly pub grub at £16 and it’s pretty hard to argue that chips – even hand-cut, skin-on chips – can justify a price tag of £3.50. But there’s no doubting the chef’s skill with the new “Bertha” oven.

This place used to be Neighbourhood and while it has not changed ownership, the change to Block seems to have been more than just a re-brand.

They’ve invested in a better menu and deeper wine list and this Spanish-designed, British built monstrosity in the kitchen.

Every morsel passes through its coal-and-woodsmoke furnace and my steak was mouth-watering: juicy in the centre was a slim caramelised vein of fat at the edge.

The feta salad across the other side of the table got high praise too, although there was a slight grumble about the asparagus being a little limp. Then again, she does tend to be a harsh marker.

Popping to relieve myself, and to leave the Pubspy business card in the gents downstairs, I was triply shocked: first by the 3ft letters spelling “sex” on the wall of the plush but empty basement function room.

And then turning to my right by coming face to face with a large hairy boar’s head. I can’t quite work out what function would perfectly suit this room, but I suppose in this town, anything’s possible.

The third shock came in the lav itself: a single urinal and no room to turn around? Come along Block, surely we can do better than that in such a salubrious place. On a Saturday afternoon it must have a queue for the Gents second only to the Amex.

Back upstairs I popped my head out of the back door to admire the jewel in Block’s crown – a large patio garden complete with tall palm trees.

A clientele of twenty to thirty and forty-somethings were chatting and smoking as the sun went down, looking for all the world like an advert for the better class of mass-market wine.

If you’re looking for a dartboard and a jukebox and Carling for less than £4 a pint, you know where to go.

I’ve even told you where not to go.

But if you’re in the mood to unwind with friends with a glass of something you’ll remember and service that’ll make you smile, I’m not sure you could do much better than this.


Decor: ★★★☆☆ 

Nice and simple and a gorgeous garden but let’s have a proper loo, shall we?

Drink: ★★★★☆ 

Local craft ales, barrel-aged gins and a serious wine list.

Price: ★★☆☆☆

It does mainly give you what you pay for, but £3.50 for a bowl of chips?

Atmosphere: ★★★★☆ 

Attractive unpretentious drinkers and diners give it a great vibe

Staff: ★★★★★

Simon and his team are top-notch. Attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, personable.