A dress fitting in Hackney on a Saturday afternoon… I had a list of places I wanted to try for lunch, but then, Andre reminded me of a pub we had passed with outdoor tables that I had mentioned was the best gastro-pub in London… not a meagre title!
So we booked a table and headed there after my fitting. Unfortunately, it had started to rain, so we didn’t sit outside, but how cosy is it indoors??
The menu is quite fun, with some unique or harder to find ingredients, which made picking a dish quite exciting…
Andre started with the home-cured Tamworth and mushrooms on toast… this was it, below. This is one of the nicest open-faced sandwiches I’ve seen in a while, and wow, did it taste good… The ham was cut into thin ribbons that practically melted over the mushrooms, a mix of tastes of fat and the cured ham… on top of thick slices of porcini mushroom, and what tasted like a mushroomy bechamel sauce underneath, all neatly stacked on a piece of toast.
This dish was really good. The combination of the salty and fatty sliver of ham, the pungent and firm mushrooms, and the sauce, all over a delicate piece of bread, was too much… every mouthful was a pleasure, as you tasted first, the ham, then the mushroom, then the saucy toast.
My dish was a bit different, but also, good. The cow’s curd, served wth burnt onion and bitter greens, was a delicious combination, with the creamy curd, the bitter and stringy greens, and the sweet onion puree, all topped with a bit of crunchy breadcrumbs.
Then, for mains… Andre tried the dumplings, which were explained to him as “basically, butter.” The leftover that comes from separating the butter is blended into a light and creamy, ricotta-like interior for the dumplings, then deep fried. These were served on a nettle puree and with crispy leaves and shaved Parmesan… making for a good mix of textures (creamy, crispy and light leaves, crispy and heavier fried balls, and, basically, shaved salt (the Parmesan). I liked that the nettle was quite pure and didn’t have any added cream or anything else… it gave a slightly bitter, green contrast to the creamy dumplings and cut through some of their fattiness.
It was quite a rich dish, so Andre and I were happy to split it and split the other main… I don’t usually show “after” shots of food, but check out the inside of that dumpling! And the nettle!
The cod with smoked fish roe and monk’s beard. This dish was much lighter, with a number of different nods to the sea… the salty and fishy roe was especially good, as it managed to have a smoky and fishy flavour without too much creaminess (which typically overpowers the other tastes of a taramasalata). The monk’s beard was cooked in some butter (I mean, need I say anything?) and while not crunchy, gave a bit of bite to the otherwise soft fish and roe. The cod itself was very nicely cooked, and flaked away perfectly while not being at all dried out. It was all a nice mouthful of firm fish, creamy roe and strings of sea vegetables.
And finally, as it was raining, we decided that we may as well go for dessert, the doughnuts with a cinnamon cream. The little doughnuts themselves were a treat finger-sized and as light as anything, these popped easily into your mouth and melted. But, add a little of the cinnamon cream on… and they were even better! The cream had a mix of salted caramel, cinnamon, and freshness (I think it was apple sauce) in it, which made it decadent without being too heavy. When the doughnuts were done (and they ran out way too quickly), we finished it with our spoons.
So, is this the best gastropub in London? I am still partial to the Harwood Arms and Anchor & Hope, but the food here was quite good (with inventive combinations) as well. While it may not trump the other two pubs for me, I’ll definitely be back to try other things on the menu the next time I’m out east!