Posts Tagged ‘London gastropubs’

The Gun Gastropub exterior, London

Apparently I’m on a gastropub kick, deciding yesterday to return to the Gun for lunch. Like the Marquess, the Gun is a restaurant that I often overlook because I’m lazy. It’s a 15-minute walk from Canary Wharf, which in my opinion is a long journey for a weekday lunch. It’s also pricey as a lunch option – most mains are £15-20 – but it’s worth the trip and the money. (more…)

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Marquess Tavern gastropub, Canonbury, Islington

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. (more…)

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The Eagle gastropub

When my stateside friends visit London, I usually assume that as much as I love Huong Viet, my friends have not come to Blighty to say they ate Vietnamese food. Instead, I end up suggesting we eat gastropub food and Indian food, which are two types of eating that I think are uniquely plentiful in London. [Well, OK, maybe uniquely isn’t quite right re: Indian food . . . I mean, you could go to India, but you hopefully see what I’m saying . . . .]

The Eagle gastropub opened in 1991, and if you’ve ever read about the history of gastropubs (such a popular reading topic, no?), the Eagle is invariably mentioned as the first one, because the Eagle’s owners geniusly invented the word.

Although the Eagle, located near Exmouth Market, is just a 20 minute-walk from our flat, I’d never been there until yesterday. With so many gastropubs opening up all the time (and my belief in evolution, I suppose), how could the 16-year-old Eagle still be going strong?

Hey, well, everyone makes mistakes. Because a fellow London blogger visited the Eagle a few weeks ago and raved about it, Jon and I decided to check it out yesterday night. The Mediterranean-influenced food, while no-frills compared to what’s served now in most gastropubs, was pretty good.

We dropped by at around 9:30 pm, and although the Eagle was packed and has a no-reservations policy, we didn’t have to wait too long for a table. The room is high-ceilinged and dark, and compared to most gastropubs these days, it has a slightly grungy feel. I imagine old French bistros used to feel this way: loud, convivial and with rickety tables and chairs.

Snagging a table near the bar, we looked at the chalkboard menus and were sad to see the grilled lambchops-and-rice dish had been crossed out. Suddenly we felt the urgent need to order, lest the kitchen run out of other yummy-sounding dishes! So we bellied up to the bar and ordered two glasses of rioja, a veggie bruschetta, skate and runner beans, and Napoli sausages with figs and cannelloni beans. (These days, gastropubs are a lot more like restaurants, and servers come to your table to take your oder, but not so at the Eagle. They’re the original and sticking to it . . . ).

The portions were enormous, which made me feel better about having spent £10 on grilled sausages and beans, basically.

Napoli sausages and figs at the Eagle gastropub

Presentation (as you can see from my photo of said sausages) was not a priority, but I did love how charred and smoky the sausages were from the grill, and the figs added a nice, tangy sweetness. If you’ve ever tried to find sausages in London with a spicy kick, then you’ll enjoy these as much as I did. The beans were just filler, and I think a better carb of choice would have been a good hunk of fresh bread. Believer in self help that I am, I just raided the bread basket.

The bruschetta was toweringly huge and could easily have been a main course, which explained the £7.50 price tag. It’s a grilled, thick slice of bread piled high with roasted vegetables and topped with a honkin’ large ball of surprisingly un-tasty buffalo mozzarella. It wasn’t awful, but having grilled a lot of veggies lately, I’ve done a lot better at home.

Overall, a good experience, and I appreciate all that the Eagle has done for the London mid-priced dining scene. That said, with all the excellent gastropubs closer to my flat, I’m not sure I’ll head out to the Eagle again soon.

If you don’t feel like cooking on a weeknight and crave simple, well-prepared food, the Eagle’s a perfect choice. And if you go, go with a group so you have a fighting chance to finish the large portions.

The Eagle on Urbanspoon

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The Albion gastropub, Thornhill Road, London N1

Just a few weeks ago, in early April, the Albion gastropub reopened after an extensive renovation. The Daily Candy, whose restaurant alerts I normally ignore, associated chef Richard Turner’s creds with Tapas Brindisa, a restaurant I like very much. Throw in the Albion’s location around the corner from my flat (journey time door-to-door: 5 minutes’ walk) and of course I checked it out.

Five out of the seven times I’ve eaten at the Albion since it reopened, I was in heaven. The service was a little unorganized (e.g., every time I called to book a table, I was told the restaurant was full, but then I’d show up as a walk-in and end up being seated almost immediately), but always friendly. So despite service slowness, the pros far outweighed the cons: The pub dining room and bar are cozy and welcoming; the large outdoor garden is a perfect place for large groups of friends to meet and hang out; and the prices are reasonable (10-15 GBP per main course and most bottles of wine for under 30 GBP). Best of all, though the food was simple, it was made with care.

Potted Duck at the Albion gastropub, Islington, N1

Among my favorites is the potted duck appetizer (photo above). I joked with my photographer friend Julie Kubal (who took all the photos in this post) that there’s no way to make potted duck a visually-appealing dish, but Julie proved me wrong.

Potted duck, in case you were wondering, is duck cooked in a lot of its own fat – confit’ed – until it’s soft enough to be a spread. I love schmearing the potted duck onto a crispy, hot slice of toasted baguette. In moving to the UK, I may have irretrievably lost bagels and cream cheese, but I won potted duck. It’s not a bad trade.

Gloucester Old Spot (pork belly) at the Albion gastropub, Islington, London N1

For my main course, I’m a big fan of the spring vegetable pot pie and the Gloucester Old Spot (photo above), which is a poetic-sounding way of saying I like to eat pork belly. Lately, though (as in: the last two times I was there), the slab of Gloucester Old Spot that arrives on my plate has been hard-as-a-rock on top and mushy on the bottom. It used to come lightly browned and crisped on top and juicy and meaty on the bottom. So are things sliding down hill, or have I just hit two bad nights by accident?Albion fries chips, Islington, London N1

And worst of all is the downhill trend in the quality of the small details like the chips. Just a month ago, the triple-fried chips were excellent – golden and ultra crunchy. To the extent the world is divided into crust lovers and middle lovers, I fall into the former category, so the crispier the better.

Alas, on my last two visits, the chips were soggy – definitely not triple fried or even double fried – and mealy in a way that I thought only frozen pre-bagged chips could be.Service during my last two visits, while never particularly good at the beginning, was also on a slide.

On one Saturday evening, the server brought out a wrong dish and kept insisting that it was our fault the dish was incorrect. It was an unpleasant conversation and the gist appeared to be that because the server had already brought out the dish, we should just accept it and eat it.

On another recent occasion, our table of six waited a half hour for a server to take our order, despite its being a quiet (empty) Wednesday evening.

Overall, I’ll give the Albion another try or two to see if things shape up, but I don’t understand how a place could start out so well and be already headed downhill.
Albion on Urbanspoon

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Draper’s Arms Gastropub, Islington

It’s been a pretty uneventful week, which is why my posts have focused on neighborhood restaurants.Today was notable only for the high winds blowing in London. My coworkers (and later on, Jon and my friend Jane) were reciting to me the mounting death toll “because of the wind,” and both Jon and Jane had their trains to other UK cities canceled this evening because of the high winds.  We’re not talking about a tornado, but apparently the wind today was strong enough to wiggle skyscrapers and shut down the inbound Docklands Light Railway (DLR), my commuter rail of choice.

So for dinner tonight, we stayed close by in the neighborhood, dropping by yet another cozy, tasty little gastropub: the Drapers Arms (that’s “the Drapers” to those of you in the ‘hood).  In case you’ve missed earlier posts (how could you?!?), gastropubs are traditional pubs that have installed kitchens and therefore serve “real” meals.

In London, gastropubs are the closest you come to mid-range dining. They vary widely in sophistication of food, but the Drapers is definitely on the more ambitious end of the eating spectrum.

I love both the pub’s exterior (which has a very “English” look – see above photo) and the simple, warm “colonial” interior. Dining room fireplaces are glowing, the light is amber-hued, and the customers are locals (so yeah, a lot of locals are from other countries, but whatever) — it’s the British answer to the French bistro.

The Drapers serves a tempting fish and chips – lightly battered, moist and flaky fish paired with some crispy-on-the-outside, smushy-on-the-inside chips/fries. At £13.50, it’s pricey for a f&c, but it’s high quality and always comforting. This is the route Jon took this evening, while Jane and I got a little more wild and crazy by ordering a roast pollack and a duck confit, respectively.

I enjoyed my salty duck confit, but Jane’s pollack could have used a little more flavoring or sauce.

Desserts (fruit crumbles, chocolate cake, etc.) are simple and warm, just like the room.

Overall, while the food is above average, the real draw to the Drapers is the atmosphere and decor. A true neighborhood place.  Main courses are mostly under £15, so it’s a popular place to go for a relaxed dinner with friends. Tonight, it was also the perfect escape from the winter wind and rain.

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My Pie

This weekend, Jon and I did a lot of cooking and eating (surprise, surprise). We had, for example, almost a dozen small apples dropped off by the organic farmer delivery service, so I whipped out my trusty Joy of Cooking and baked the pie you see above using the “apple pie 2” receipe. It is fall, after all (though no trees here are turning color – sad).

I don’t normally bake because flour always seems to get everywhere when I do it, and the prospect of cleaning it all up is unappealing. But I was feeling relaxed on Sunday, so I tried it out. Because the pastry dough turned out pretty easy to handle, I got ambitious and gave the lattice crust a go. All in all, not a bad result. Flaky pastry, intense fruity filling. A pie, basically. Next time I’ll figure out how to crimp the edges so they’re prettier and then I’ll be happy.

It was, by the way, quite a hassle trying to find some shortening to mix into the pastry dough. The three store clerks I asked at Sainsbury’s had never heard of shortening, so I ended up using some vegetable margarine instead. The recipe was still mostly butter, but apparently the shortening helps you add structure to the crust because its melting temperature is higher than butter’s. Where’s Alton Brown when you need him to confirm?Fruits at the Market

Jon and I dropped by the weekly Islington Farmer’s Market on Sunday. Even though we now get more produce than we can handle in our weekly organic delivery service, it was too bright and sunny to ignore a trip to our local market, which is a 5-minute walk away, tucked behind the Islington Town Hall.

I love a lot of things about the market, not least of which is how speicalized the sellers are. There are stands selling just tomatoes, or just jars of honey, there’s the goat cheese guy, the organic eggs guy, the three bakers whose stands are next to one another but who distinguish themselves by bragging about their pastries or their country loaves . . . this sort of specialization is, I think, a mark of how quality these products are.

And look at the freshness of everything -the dusty “bloom” still on theArtisan Bakers at Market plums, for example. Hard to beat the produce at a farmer’s market.

Anyway, we’ve been eating out a lot lately. We started off our weekend with lunch at our local Yo! Sushi, which is one of the conveyor-belt sushi chains that’s popular in London (the other big chain being Itsu). There’s an outpost of Yo! on the 5th floor of Harvey Nichols, but we went to the humble location near Angel to satisfy my sudden craving for sushi.

The sushi is served on colored plates, which are coded to correspond with different prices. You sit at tables along the perimeter of a conveyor belt that carries the different sushi plates past your table, and then you serve yourself by taking appealing-looking plates off the conveyor belt. Plates are priced between £2 and £5 each, but the catch is that each plate comes with, say, two pieces of maki, so making a meal of it can really add up fast. At the end of your meal, the waitress counts up your various-colored plates and tots up your bill.

None of the sushi was great, but nothing was bad, either. What I mean is that at 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, even though the conveyor belt is zipping around and the plates are being replaced constantly, it’s just 101 variations on salmon, which is too bad. I don’t know why there’d be so little variety during slow hours, but there you go. Our tab for two was £27, mostly because Jon wasn’t too hungry, so no complaints.

On Saturday night, Liz, Jon, Jon’s friend, Gokce, and I ate at The Marquess Tavern, 32 Canonbury St., N1 2TB, 020 7354 2975, which was recently reviewed by Time Out as one of the best gastropubs in London.I loved the high-ceilinged, spare interior of the dining room (click on the Time Out review above to see a photo), and it was a pretty walk along New River to get there from our neighborhood.

According to the review, the dining room used to be a morgue. Yikes. But I had no idea while I was there, so I’m glad I didn’t read the review carefully until after our dinner.

The food and atmosphere were a lot fancier than they were at the Charles Lamb last Thursday. I ordered steamed mussels with fennel as a starter, and they arrived hot and fresh, but the wine/butter sauce (oddly) lacked salt, which was easily fixed using the pinch bowls of salt everywhere. The large cuts of meat that the Marquess takes pride in were too big for our party of four. Liz and I wanted to share “rib foremeat,” but there was no piece small enough for two people there. Oh well – next time.

At £100 for wine, starters and mains for four people, it seems to be pretty good value for your money, especially if you bring a big enough group to share some of the big cuts of meat. We’ll go back.~~~

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I organized an outing on Thursday night at the Charles Lamb Pub (16 Elia St, N1 8DE, 020 7837 5040), which just happens to be in my neighborhood (here’s to the prerogative of the planner).

I love that I live in a city where someone connected Elia and Charles Lamb. In case you’re a little hazy on your British essayists, Charles Lamb wrote “The Essays of Elia” in the early 19th century. His pen name, Elia, is a recurring clue/solution in the New York Times crossword (bc there are lots of vowels in a row?), and perhaps most interesting to everyone (to me, anyway) is that his sister stabbed his mother through the heart with a table knife. So sayeth the wikipedia.

So, back to the food, the pub is tiny, and you seat yourself. I arrived first asked a group of three men to switch from a table for six to a nearby table for four so that I could take over the six-table with my friends Brian, Jane, Bill, Bill’s cousin Kate, and Bill’s friend Raghav. (All of us American, except for Raghav, who’s from Delhi). The guys who moved tables were super nice about it, so cheers to them. I had every intention of ordering them a round when our orders were taken, because in the UK, nothing says “thank you” quite like free beer. But of course my group cheerfully chatted and waited at our table for about an hour before we noticed on a chalkboard the message: “order at the bar.” Oops. And by then the guys had eaten and left the pub.

It shows you (1) how easy-going the pub is to let a big group sit at a table for an hour without ordering anything; and (2) how accustomed we are to slow service here that waiting an hour for someone to take our order was OK.

The pub seemed to have just one server, so we figured the server was really overwhelmed and we didn’t want to be pushy Americans. Of course, it turns out the pub has only one server because, well, you’re supposed to order at the bar.

My chicken pot pie was pretty disappointing. It had a hot, flaky crust, but the pie filling tasted like oversalted chicken soup. How hard is it to make a nice, thick pot pie filling? Just spend two minutes spent adding some butter, milk and flour, right? The pub’s fish pies tasted better, I thought, with their pillowy mashed potato tops, and Jane’s duck confit was probably the best of all the dishes ordered (not dried out, but with most of the fat rendered and the meat salty and tender).

Who would have thought you should come to a pub and skip the pies but order the duck?

Of course, the beer selection was good, as was the price – our total was £17 a person. Throw in the cozy atmosphere – the pub had about five tables and a roaring fireplace in the dining room – the warm, soft lighting, and a buzz of locals in and out by the bar, and you have a welcoming place to meet friends. It’s worth another visit, and next time, I’ll steer clear of of my pre-conceptions of what a small pub cooks best.
Charles Lamb on Urbanspoon

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