A full write up of our previous visit to Restaurant Nathan Outlaw can be read here.
If one name has become synonymous with the best cooking of the best fish in the UK (and world), it's surely Nathan Outlaw and his flagship two Michelin starred restaurant at St Enodoc Hotel continues to go from strength to strength. A trip to the Cornwall hardly seems complete without a visit there and it was fabulous to return. The fish is of course perfect, and the staff, well, they're pretty perfect too. The same FOH team from our previous visit continues to offer guests the warmest of welcomes, which was so nice to see, while Nathan himself was in the kitchen working hard cooking up fish directly sourced from local fishermen.
A full write up of our previous visit to Restaurant Nathan Outlaw can be read here.
Simon Hulstone is one of the smartest, most creative chefs in the UK, and his restaurant, The Elephant in Torquay, delivers an impressive mix of inventive cooking, technical excellence and original creations. We've previously posted on The Elephant (click to read here) so here we will simply leave you to enjoy the pictures of the amazing food that we were served up recently during our visit there during our South West trip.
For visitors to Torquay intending to visit The Elephant, please note that there is both a Brasserie (open throughout the year) and a fine dining restaurant (The Room) which closes during the winter season. Availability of the tasting menu should be made in advance of your visit.
"It promises much" I said arranging to meet my friend at Fish Central, a well regarded fish 'n' chip shop in the Clerkenwell/Old Street area of London. It's been a family run business since 1968 and continues to thrive. Despite it being a Monday the eat-in area is almost full when we arrive while the couple at the next table tell us that they've been coming to this fish 'n' chip shop for 15 years which is a pretty strong endorsement (though I note they ordered their fish grilled). The restaurant is sizeable for a neighbourhood chip shop while the take-away fish and chips part has it's own entrance and is located next door.
The menu is quite sizeable too with 11 starters, a lobster & oyster section (a whole lobster salad is an impressive £18.95), many main courses (cod, haddock, plaice, skate +) and if all that weren't enough, there's a catch of the day and a 'from the chargrill' section also: the menu is about 2 feet long! Prices across the menu show good value and the classic fish supper being prawn cocktail, cod or haddock and chips and a dessert of your choice is a snip at £13.95; that's me sorted.
As a freebie while you are deciding, they bring you a mini salmon fishcake which is a nice thing to do though understandably, it's a little light on salmon. The prawn cocktail arrives and would politely be described as'old school' though in fairness, the prawns were excellent and the sauce well balanced and I found myself enjoying this a lot more than I thought I would when it was set down in front of me. My friend similarly enjoyed a big plate of mussels (£5.45) and again, a generous portions for not such a big outlay is a welcome combination. On the mussels however, albeit a minor matter, as the plate emptied a screwtop of unknown origin revealed itself in the bowl which is less welcome.
Then the main event: cod and chips twice. Given the strong reputation Fish Central has, I'm sad to say the fish was a little bit dry, perhaps a minute too long in the fryer and/or delay in service? It wasn't ruinous but it was enough to exclude this from being a memorable fish and chip moment or my top fish and chip pick in London. The previously mentioned full restaurant also revealed itself to be predominantly a single group of people which probably also means the kitchen was rammed immediately ahead of our order. Chips were nice but overall it fell short of being great fisha dn chips which was a shame.
Nor could the bread and butter pudding that followed help them recover as that was a little too on the stodgy side and couldn't be finished. Fish Central clearly has a fans and whether it was simply because it was a Monday, the large group immediately in ahead of us, or just bad luck, it didn't really work out on my visit. On the plus side, nor did it cost a fortune and we were able to enjoy a pint of beer with our meal. The search continues.
I know that Adam Stokes is an excellent chef even before I step though the door of Adam's, his recently opened restaurant in Birmingham, because last year, several hundred miles north on the west coast of Scotland, I got to eat his food at Glenapp Castle where he earned his first Michelin star (read the blog post here). In this year's Michelin awards, they again awarded Adam a star, rightly so, but what's changed of course is that it is now his name over the door, meaning that he is free to take his own risks while having every incentive to succeed. On the basis of our meal there, and the full restaurant around him, the risks are being rewarded and Birmingham is already embracing his cuisine.
The restaurant is modestly sized and tastefully done. Staff have strong backgrounds with previous experience at the likes of L'enclume and Midsummer House while Adam's wife Natasha overseas FOH operations as she did at Glenapp. The food is focused on contemporary fine dining and at lunch there is a choice between a set lunch menu (£25 for three courses), five courses tasting (£45) and a nine course tasting (£75). And Adam is definitely doing his own thing: on the five course tasting menu, the 'main' course is pheasant while on the nine course it's hare. On the day of our meal, other savoury courses on the 9 include mallard and venison meaning that pork, beef and lamb are all sidelined in the main menu in favour of game dishes, surely a brave move for a new restaurant to run with anywhere quite frankly. We say good for Adam.
Already then, there's a sense that Adam is doing his own thing and as the food starts to arrive, it's clear he's doing it well. Beef, off the main menu, has only a supporting role as a one bite canape tartare topped with mini egg yolks, it's lovely, while the chicken croquettes that preceded this are also well executed and undoubtedly good to eat. On the menu items however, the hard work and technical skill becomes apparent.
The menu running order of course is not what you expect, scallops are served after mallard and venison but the food here is less heavy than you'd imagine from the description and the order works well enough as it zigs and zags. Plates pop with colour such that charred sweetcorn and grapefruit bring vibrancy to pollock and artfully plated, every dish is instantly a treat to behold even before you reach for your cutlery. Combinations work well so that golden raisins team effectively with mallard and blackberries are perfect with a tartare of fallow venison, a combination that we cannot remember seeing before yet one that is so absolutely right. Smoked eel, definitely a chef's favourite this year provides depth to scallops that also benefits from baby leeks and sorrel.
At Glenapp, Adam earned 4 AA Rosettes and that technical competence is evident throughout, every piece of fish and meat, every sauce and garnish is spot on. In the theme of mixing things up, we were initially surprised to see foie gras on the menu after the main course but here it's put to work within the crossover dish bringing sweetness shaved over rhubarb that makes for another excellent creation. Apple, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla is smartly done and invokes winter apple pie but without the weight after a big meal, while pears, figs and pedro ximenez packages a fresh sorbet with the intense concentration from the pedro ximenez such that desserts show the same level of originality as the savouries.
Adam and Natasha are young, this is their first owned restaurant and just six months have passed since they opened the doors, yet there's no sense they need time to bed down, to find their feet, rather, they're already delivering at the highest level. The meal is elegant, inventive, sophisticated, superbly executed and enjoyable to eat. We'd be happy to put money on Adam getting a second star in the coming years. Adam's restaurant is good news for Birmingham, and good news for British food: another success story in the making.
Mention that you're going to Birmingham to eat and you're immediately asked 'Purnell's?'. Reasonable question, for Glynn Purnell has stamped his name on the Birmingham food scene like Sat Bains has in Nottingham and Daniel Clifford has in Cambridge, the association made all the easier by Glynn's branding as The Yummie Brummie. Birmingham has been a noticeable absence on the blog for some time, generally because when we feel like a break from the UK's largest city, visiting the UK's second largest city hardly seemed the place to go. Nothing personal then, but heading back home from Cumbria, Birmingham is ideally situated to break up the journey.
Even if you are not on Twitter, even if you have never visited Birmingham, if you like food you'll almost certainly have come across Glynn on Great British Menu where in 2008 he was a winner with his dessert (strawberries with tarragon) going on to achieve a back to back win in 2009 with the fish course (Masala spiced monkfish with red lentils). Thereafter, he was a regular fixture as a judge. Purnell's restaurant meanwhile opened in 2007 and was awarded a Michelin star in January 2009. On the website, they describe the restaurant's style as 'chic, contemporary fine dining'.
The restaurant is spacious with a large bar area and a dining area where tables are nicely spaced. Staff are enthusiastic and represent the restaurant well and the wine list is fabulous in breadth and price. Menuwise, the's an Autumn Lunch Menu (£30, three courses), Autumn Menu (£60, five courses) or The Purnell's Tour (£80, nine courses). Well, we don't make it to Birmingham too often so it was the Purnell's Tour, a menu described as dishes that are important to Glynn from 'the past, present and future'.
Ahead of food, there's bread, and we have to say this is some of the nicest bread we have ever eaten in a restaurant. Made in house from a special French grain, it's light and airy with whipped butter and salt on the side, there's plenty of it too and it would be all to easy to eat the whole loaf but with a tasting menu coming, that would probably be a bad idea. Unusually for an amuse, salt baked potatoes are served which are lovely but the carbs are piling up and we haven't even reached the menu yet.
The first course is called 'emotions of cheese and pineapple on sticks' and is a take on the 1970's party snack. While this runs the risk of being, err, cheesy, they pull it off with goats cheese, candied and jelly pineapple and a gougere served separately on the side, this core and satellite approach appearing in many dishes served. Purnell's has a reputation for injecting humour into dishes which can be risky but as we would see throughout the menu, the cooking is very technically sound such that the humour is not getting in the way of the food.
Haddock and eggs, cornflakes and curry oil, a sort of breakfast mash up with a haddock lollipop on the side was nice enough, a perfectly done yolk, great haddock, but aside of its technical competence, it felt a little bit too ordinary to be a star on fine dining tasting menu. A deconstructed remoulade next was our least favourite of the menu with celeriac first, then a buttery mustard spoonful followed by a glass of pop to clean up. Here, pulling apart the flavours of a normally combined dish adds nothing to it in our view.
The next two dishes fare much better where great ingredients are nicely done. A carpaccio of beef with red wine octopus, home cured beef and salt beef together with an almost marmalade presentation of onions; the beef just shines. Likewise, native lobster and Devonshire crab mayonnaise is not overly fussy but benefits from that with the menu now hitting the brief (chic, contemporary fine dining) in our view.
Monkfish masala we already know is an award winning dish for Glynn and it's hard to fault; we doubt monkfish could ever be more precisely cooked than this. The main is Balmoral venison with creme fraiche potato and it offers up full flavoured venison (it was a very large deer by all accounts) that is again precise albeit a somewhat more mainstream dish.
The first dessert we absolutely loved, combining the classic flavours of mint and chocolate with the table side play of dry ice on dry mint to wash the table with minty aroma. Like cheese and pineapple, there's an appeal here to the inner child that does in fact work and not enjoying this dish seems an impossibility for any chocolate lover. The burnt English custard egg surprise is perhaps the only place where technical precision slips and the burnt sugar topping is so thick, requiring such force from the spoon to crack, we fear an incident and almost leave it uneaten our of appropriate caution. The custard itself when we do break through is excellent though we fail to remember what the surprise is.
Overall, the standard of cooking in Purnell's is excellent and there are some really enjoyable dishes here. Looking to other blog posts dating back a couple of years, we do note the tasting menu hasn't really changed that much though arguably, that's what purpose the Autumn menu serves. Even so, we wonder whether it best highlights his talents to so firmly anchor the flagship tasting menu to the past in a contemporary restaurant? But we very much enjoyed our time at Purnell's, the staff, the wine pairings and of course the food. If located in London, he would no doubt have a full restaurant here also. In short, this is without doubt worthy of its star and understandably a go to place in Birmingham.
Since we last visited L'enclume, the awards have continued to pile up: a second star, overtaking The Fat Duck in The Good Food Guide for the number 1 spot, Restaurant of the Year by several awarding bodies and numerous awards for Simon Rogan personally. And despite the old kitchen being in our view one of the very best we've seen since starting the blog, they've had a kitchen refurb because for the team at L'enclume, there's no standing still, there's a relentless drive to be better and better and better, no easy task given their starting point. Yet the reality is that they do continue to improve, something we see with each of our visits and the food leaves us once again speechless as to the brilliance of the offering.
While much ink has, and will continue to be splashed in explaining the remarkable food served at L'enclume, part of it surely lies in the paradox between the honesty of local ingredients, many from their own farm just up the road, and the cutting edge cooking techniques often employed including the use of centrefuges, blast chillers, low pressure evaporators etc such that the food is not only beyond the realm of the home cook, it's beyond the grasp of many a professional chef also. And as one veteran two star chef said to us the other day, Simon's grasp of ingredients is utterly remarkable, perhaps the best of any chef in the country. Mark Birchall meanwhile continues to head up the kitchen and most of the dishes, while unmistakably L'enclume, are new to us despite having eaten there several times previously. And though the menu extends to 20 odd courses, you always feel that the L'enclume team have many more ideas than a single menu permits and it remains a hub of fertile energy.
The form of the meal will be familiar to all fans of Rogan's food, ten or so canape style bites including the remarkable oyster pebbles, a fantastically indulgent smoked eel with ham fat and a full on ragout of pigeon offal. In the larger savouries, there's the cod 'yolk', the Westcombe (cheese) dumplings that seem to get better every time, venison in charcoal oil, a signature dish now surely, as well as a fish 'main' of butter poached brill with razor clams and a meat 'main' of aged Dexter, cabbage, mushrooms, salsify and dittander. And if you like desserts, there's six of those, though don't expect any chocolate, rather, pear, quince, blackberries, meadowsweet and even celeriac, something only they can get away with. L'enclume offers a menu that in our view is unique in many aspects, even among Michelin starred tasting menus.
L'enclume is our favourite restaurant in the UK and the food there is, in our opinion, without doubt three star. Technically excellent, always surprising, humourous, innovative, wide ranging and let's be clear on this, unfailingly enjoyable to eat. For only a few lucky people is L'enclume close by, but no matter how far it is from where you live, L'enclume is always worth the journey.
Some chefs are simply exciting and Sat Bains is one of them. Our return to his restaurant is long overdue and electricity pylons do a better job than SatNav in guiding us to his front door once again. While it has been an amazing couple of years for him professionally, Sat is still to be found in his kitchen, a broad smile on his face and sharing generously his excellent wit. While he has plans to open a small restaurant in Nottingham town centre (possibly 2014), for now, Restaurant Sat Bains is still his only venue and as such, gets the full focus of his creative energies, anchoring Nottingham on the culinary map. His dedication to it is one of many admirable traits for he can't be short of other offers.
If you haven't yet got a copy of Sat Bains' book Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian, you should, it really is fantastic and more or less makes blog posts on his restaurant (like this one) redundant as the book so comprehensively covers everything he is about, what the restaurant is about and what the food is about. His philosophy is woven into every part of the book but one page captures things well when he says
Be the best. Work hard - work fast - work clean. Every ingredient has to be the best we can afford. Seasons have to rule the kitchen. Only allow minimal manipulation when necessary. Elevate flavours through understanding. Cook as if you are eating. Waste is poor workmanship. Extraction of flavour is our role in life as cooks. Balance of menus is our obligation to our guests. Health is crucial in menu planning. Seasoning is a true skill so taste, taste, and taste again. Our goal is to be the best so we should act like the best.
There's a shorter and a longer tasting menu, and it's nice to see that the shorter menu is not simply an abbreviation of the longer menu but has been crafted in its own right, both look incredibly tempting. We don't get to Nottingham nearly enough to have the shorter menu, we want to try as many plates as possible, so it's the full 10 courses. Portion sizes are ideal, well judged to see you through the meal rather than overwhelming you early.
The food at Sat's seeks to open your eyes (and mind) a little with combinations, textures and temperatures that you perhaps don't expect. Early savouries include 'chicken muesli' which are two words you rarely find together and when brought to the table, the chicken is not apparent, appearing only as a bowl of muesli, but dig down and through and cool creamy chicken liver resides below the surface giving that pop of surprise as textures and temperatures (and of course taste) put a smile on your face. In common with much else that's on the menu, it's lighter than you might imagine and the menu skips along easily enough.
Elsewhere in the early savouries, it's a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar in many ways. There's a beautifully caramelised scallop which is a fair opening gambit for any top end restaurant, though root vegetables with bearnaise and umami heavy dashi leads into the main course and is the kind of creation that marks somewhere like RSB as worthy of a special journey. The main, hare, comes in two parts leading out with a 'hare sausage roll' that pushes the game flavours of hare to the right side of the limit. With the sausage roll gone, hare dusted in szechuan arrives and is served with cauliflower, pear, stilton and chocolate for a super rich umami packed main. Hare is always quite an intense dish but here it's controlled, not overwhelming and the pear provides freshness and acidity to counter when it feels like you might drown in the umami. It's good cooking.
There's a crossover lolly, beetroot mivvis (mivvis being originally a Lyons Maid ice cream, memories from childhood then) before another childhood favourite: rice pudding. This is a grown up version though, the rice separate from the cream and served with a sake granita on top; it's heaven, leaving you to curse the tasting menu portions for a giant bowl of this would have been readily eaten by us both. Then a beautiful chocolate dish that inevitably gets compared to an Aero but included here is a mystery ingredient that you're invited to guess. We did (yay!), but we wont spoil the surprise. It's dessert heaven here as you are further served blueberries and finally bread and butter pudding, though again, both are outside the box and all desserts were so so good.
The location of the restaurant is, as has been often commented upon, not an obvious one and to have made it the success it is requires you to admire and respect Sat's achievement. With a great menu of original offerings, you have to admire and respect Sat's food also. Meanwhile, front of house were simply excellent and with a chef's table, kitchen table and kitchen bench, you might well be interacting with the kitchen team during your meal, and guess what, they're lovely too. In Restaurant Sat Bains, Sat has created something special and it's without doubt a must visit destination for those who love food and are food curious.
If you needed an indicator of how far Britain has come gastronomically, the Smokehouse is as good as any. As a makeover of a local pub, the Smokehouse very much remains at its core a pub as witnessed by its remarkable range of beers, but on the food side, under the creative leadership of Neil Rankin (Pitt Cue, John Salt), they have put in place a menu unlike any we have seen elsewhere in the UK, in either a pub or restaurant. This alone is a creditable fact.
If over the past couple of years you still haven't come across Chef Neil Rankin, he is a classically trained chef but has chosen a direction that usually involves a good piece of meet and fire. The menu here plays with that concept in full such that even a vegetarian curry option is described as a 'coal roasted aubergine curry'. And while the back blackboard states as most good places do now that their beef is sourced here and their fish is sourced their, at Smokehouse they even discuss the sustainability of their woodchips that put the smoke into Smokehouse.
We modestly over-ordered because there's so many temptations on the menu that narrowing it down to just a couple of dishes is too hard and we want to get a sense of what's on offer. The kitchen kindly send out some extra food also, such that we really got to see a lot of the menu.
Starters offer a full range of wonderful sounding items and the Twitter-verse had been raving about the foie gras, apple pie and duck egg so we felt we really should see what the fuss is about. But remembering that Neil's crab dish in his previous gaff was a knockout we couldn't pass over his crab on toast here either to see what he makes of it and, for good unhealthy measure, we ordered too the duck confit with fourme d'ambert on toast.
All plates were generously proportioned and the foie gras dish, at £10, didn't skimp on the foie making it actually very good value such that foie gras lovers everywhere should just flock to Smokehouse because the foie gras itself is a beautiful example of the kind and pairing it with an apple pie to provide both acidity and texture is both fun and interesting, all coated with a highly viscous slow cooked egg. The crab however was also a big hit because it's not 'just' crab on toast but a lobster/crab bisque reduction sauce also coats the toast for additional depth of flavour elevating it above what is so often served elsewhere making it quite special.
The benefits of Smokehouse being a smokehouse are most obvious on the mains where the smoky aromas and flavours have worked themselves deep into the mutton chops leaving you in no doubt of the benefits of Neil's style of cooking. A peppered ox-cheek comes with a densely sticky and dark peppery glaze but we're both in agreement that the absolute star of the mains is the shortrib bourguignon where the beef arrives as a single cut on the bone and is meltingly tender from goodness knows how long it's been cooking through the day: it really is a special piece of meat and no-one who enjoys beef surely could do anything but adore this. For us, only the smoked pork rib-eye failed to work, its merits to us unclear. We also got to sample a side of the Korean pulled pork which is simply excellent, though quite which main would make you think 'I think I had better order a side of pork to go with this' we have no idea.
The food here is generously portioned and quite rich such that most people we imagine would leave Smokehouse satisfied in every way. We've said a few times now on the blog that a lot of the pub food in London just isn't that special but Neil's menus are always interesting and for a pub in Islington to be doing food like this is simply fantastic. For the carnivores of the world then, Smokehouse then is a must: Neil has a real passion for this type of food it seems and it shows.
Serious chefs (Thomas Keller) to serious food journalists (Matthew Fort) all agree there's no such thing as perfection in hospitality... and yet?
And yet, when we pull our thesaurus off the shelf in search of synonyms, we find: completeness, exactness, excellence, exquisiteness, faultlessness, integrity, maturity, precision, purity, sublimity. This to us sounds a lot like Le Manoir. In fact, it doesn't just sound like Le Manoir, it is Le Manoir and following a visit there to celebrate a special day, we again reflect with wonder how they can get everything so right every time.
While the question 'any dietary requirements' for us is usually met with the straightforward answer 'no', on this occasion we said yes: being truffle season and a special occasion, we would like truffles incorporated into every dish please! We should add that advance notice was given to the kitchen on this request, rather than surprise them on the day, and our thanks to Chef Gary Jones and team for working so hard to make this happen.
Still in the car, the pulse always quickens slightly as Le Manoir comes into view and as you pull up the drive to the front of the house. After the warmest of greetings at the door (Le Manoir team are unrivaled in knowing how to make you feel welcome on arrival), we have a drink, canapes and time to view the menu in front of a real log fire in one of the Manoir's sitting rooms. Through to the dining room, we feel excited about the experience to come and so it seems do the staff. The staff at Le Manoir have the highest professional standards and yet are able to engage without awkwardness at a very personal level which again is really very special and while all members of staff were amazing yesterday, James and Brad who specifically looked after us deserve their own mention: thank you.
Truffled eggs start the menu and immediately send you into sensory heaven. What we discover throughout the menu is that it's not just a menu where truffles are shaved on top (which of course is still perfectly nice), but it is a menu where truffles have been fully integrated through the dish so that with our egg, you initially taste the light creamy eggs and the shaved truffle on top, but as you spoon lower into the shell, new layers of truffle and something like a mushroom ketchup awaits, increasing the potency as you discover new depths. Having also selected from the bread basket their bacon bread, it feels like the ultimate breakfast.
Scottish langoustine with tender leeks is a characteristically beautiful dish from Le Manoir with splashes of colour, truffles on top and again worked through the dish together with some of the plumpest langoustine you could ever hope to find on your plate. A risotto of Alba truffles is insanely good, loaded with truffle and chanterelles, oozing rich, earthy complex flavours that please in the profoundest way and leaving you torn between satisfaction and devastation as you finish what's in the bowl: more please? Scallop and turbot 'forestiere' continue to deliver exceptional cuisine for your fish course, and then...
If you want to bring a dining room to an inquisitive silence, you could do worse than walk through it with an inflated pig's bladder in a copper saucepan. Our main course was Cotswold chicken breast 'en vessie'. Brought table side, the near perfect hemispherical bladder is punctured and the chicken breast on the bone removed from the bladder, the dark truffles tucked under the luminescent skin clearly visible. With each breast taken off the bone, sliced, then plated, further truffles are shaved on top at the table. In case that's not decadent enough foie gras runs through the sauce and a substantial cep sits on the plate anchoring this chicken in the forest also. It is possibly the best chicken dish we've ever had in a restaurant, the chicken so incredibly moist it's like a rediscovery of what chicken can be.
Brillat Savarin cheese, always amazing in its own right is made more amazing laced through with truffle and almost cascades off the board it's so runny. It's served with a celery salad and hazelnut for crunch. Our two dessert courses see profiteroles encompassing truffle ice cream followed by millionaire shortbread with black truffle toffee. Both are beautiful and remarkable, a more difficult challenge to encompass truffle into dessert but very smartly done and truffle ice cream is definitely something to crave when executed as cleverly as this. It's a perfect end to a perfect meal and we're too full to even finish petit fours taken in front of the sitting room fire (fortunately they are boxed and make the journey home with us).
Le Manoir offers a remarkable experience at every possible level. The menu we ate was simply incredible, the hotel itself romances you into submission, the staff are without doubt the very best in the industry, and all that means the sum of these parts is a giddy achievement. But above all that, Le Manoir connects with you emotionally, joy and comfort when you're there, separation and longing when you're not, while each visit fuels memories that last a lifetime and cumulatively deepens the bond you feel towards the house and the people who run it. Popular wisdom might say that perfection doesn't exist in the hospitality industry but even if that is true, it doesn't really matter, because Le Manoir is close enough.
The Anchor & Hope pub is a short walk away from Waterloo station and is a pub that has gained a strong reputation for food stretching back a decade. The philosophy for the style of food is derived from St John which then makes instant sense of the menu. Accordingly, you might find pig's head, grouse and hare on the menu and nothing resembling a 'pub classic'. Yet this is resolutely a pub where no bookings are taken, where they don't have a website and there is as much space given over to drinkers as there is to diners.
Because of the no bookings policy, you are generally advised to arrive early 'to avoid disappointment', though at 1pm on a Thursday lunchtime, the place is busy but there's the odd table available and this was no problem. While there is a dedicated dining room (one half of the pub), in the drinkers half you can still order food from the same menu which makes things a little easier. Being a pub, I go to the bar for a drink but they do offer to bring it to the table even in the pub section which is nice. Decor, as can be seen above, is proper London pub.
For starters, crab on toast appeals obviously, the warm snail and bacon salad is interesting (in a pub) cuttlefish in ink is certainly different for 'pub grub', but I settle on Pressed Pig's Head in Vinaigrette. My friend has the day's special, burrata and tomatoes. For me, three large, thin slices of pig's head arrive, generously topped with vinaigrette, capers and diced shallot. It's reasonably fatty but that ensures you are never short changed on flavour and there's an earthy note there too, but the combination of the vinaigrette, capers and shallot worked brilliantly, overlaying the fats to balance out the dish, such that it felt cleaner and even lighter, helped too by slices rather than larger chunks. The capers and shallots also ensured the dish never fell down on texture either.
On mains, my duck leg fills the bowl, a hulk of a leg that is dark enough, especially when sat on a bed of prunes, for me to worry whether they might have overdone it or not. They haven't and the duck is a real treat, crispy outside, still juicy meat inside, prunes and bacon adding salty sweetness. Only the mash was a disappointment, missing any lightness or fluffiness and too much hard work to bother with. My friend ordered the wild halibut with chickpeas in crab broth and enjoyed it, though as both mains arrive, I can't help but think that on presentation, they are not entirely doing their food justice but I'm sure many will argue that it's only the taste that matters (and they are a proper pub, not a fancy Michelin restaurant).
Desserts were a plum and almond tart and a 'lemon pot, cassis and shortbread'. I wondered how the cassis would be incorporated here and when it came sitting on the lemon pot (presumably straight out the bottle), I still wasn't sure what to make of it. It worked however fabulously well as the lemon pot had a nice little bite to it that the cassis then tamed leaving me more impressed with this £4 dessert than I possibly imagined I could be on ordering.
Overall then, The Anchor & Hope delivered a meal where I enjoyed all three courses and where the bill for that food came to just £23 before service which has to be seen as great value in anyone's book. Service was admittedly up and down but mostly friendly, and the genuine pub experience (decor, service, food presentation) will likely appeal to more customers than if their mash were in a quenelle not a dollop. Having been mostly disappointed by London's pub food so far, The Anchor & Hope impressed us with the diversity of its menu and the flavours they were able to extract from the ingredients. Given the price point too, we understand why The Anchor & Hope is considered one of London's top pubs for food.