With so many good gastropubs in the neighborhood, Jon and I don’t visit some as often as we’d like. The Marquess Tavern, for example, is no more than a 15-minute walk from our flat, but because it’s on the “other side” of Upper Street – the Canonbury side – we make it there only once three or four months.
My most recent visit – yesterday – reminded me how stupid it is we don’t go more often. First, there’s the service, which is attentive, helpful and friendly. Getting a pitcher of tap water is not only “no problem,” but the pitcher arrives with slices of lemon. A true miracle of the London dining scene.
Second, there’s the dining room, which is high-ceilinged and beautiful in its crown-moulded glory. Chalkboards listing dozens of beers, wines and whiskeys complete the casual-elegant look of the dining room. Overstuffed leather sofas at the front of the pub welcome those who are there just to drink.
Last, but not least, is the food. Simple and elegant – just like the dining room, come to think of it.
I took the photo of the dining room (above) at closing time, which is why the place looks empty. In reality, the Marquess is always bustling because it’s a place that’s particularly nice to bring a group of friends. Large cuts of meat are available daily, and they’re sized for sharing (e.g., roast rib of beef for six, priced at £75). You should see these roasts come to the table – they’re massive. And festive. Nothing says “wow” like a big plate of meat.
In any event, groups of two or four like the ones I go with to the Marquess are also happily at home ordering off the regular (non-hunk-o-meat) menu. Last night, after outstanding drinks with friends at the nearby 25 Canonbury, Jon and I craved the Marquess’s basic-but-elegant food.
My sea scallops with samphire were excellent. I loved that I could order on a per-scallop basis (nice to control both quantity and price that way), and seeing samphire on the menu is just another sign that spring is near. The scallops were sweet and perfectly seared with a crisp, salted outside and a firm, raw inside. Samphire was a great accompaniment – crunchy and salty and living up to its rep as the asparagus of the sea.
Jon’s Jerusalem artichoke soup was hot and creamy. It did the trick to warm you up and fill you up but the artichoke was the touch of creative flair. Personally, I’d prefer potato-leek soup any day over Jerusalem artichoke, but that’s why Jon ordered it and not me.
Jon’s steak-and-oyster pie was filled with huge hunks of meat (of course) and I didn’t taste so many oysters in there. But I admit I was too busy gobbling down the world’s best fish and chips to pay too much attention to his pie. At £12, it’s pricey for fish and chips, but it’s worth it. I like my batter light and golden, and the Marquess’s batter crunch and color are perfect.
Most appetizers are £6-7, and mains hover around £15. All dishes on the menu come with recommended wines, available by the glass.
Despite its status as Time Out’s Gastropub of the Year in 2006, the Marquess’s standards for food and service are still high. I need to get over my mindset of Upper Street-as-barrier and eat at the Marquess a lot more often.