"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


It takes some doing to open five gastro pubs in London. The effort involved in building and running a small chain must be quite considerable and the reworking of tired, unloved old boozers in quieter corners of London is an admirable thing indeed.

It is a shame then that DH have never found anything in the group comprising The Gun, The Well, The White Swan and The Empress of India, worthy of note.

They range from the ordinary (The Well and The Gun) to the ordinary and expensive (The White Swan and The Empress of India) and the menus offer a dispiritingly identikit approach to gastro pub dining.

So, when I returned from my last bit of travelling, the news that the group had opened a new place, The Prince Arthur in Hackney, was not something that particularly set my pulse a racing. But, we live in hope and, when HP, suggested a supper tonight when my own plans fell through, we decided to get a bit of exercise and walk up to Forest Rd and give them a try.

As ever, with this group, the refurbishment has been done well, even if this is a little more pedestrian than some of the others. There is Deuchars IPA on tap, which is always a good sign and, although there is no separate dining area, they had kept a table by for us.

Before the food, a word about the service. One noticeable aspect of dipping out of the country for extended periods and then coming back for short stints, is that I have noticed considerable improvements in the levels of service in the UK. It may not be at the perma-grinned automata levels of the US, but I can’t recall too many examples of poor service in the last few weeks and some, lord help us have even managed it with a smile.

The service at The Prince Arthur was the very essence of chirpy charm, which makes it even more of a shame that the food that came out of the kitchen was easily the worst we have experienced in any of the pubs in this group.

As HP puts it, you can always tell pretty quickly and, the moment our three starters were put in front of us it was apparent that, if there had been a chef involved in the construction of the menu, he was either off that night or busy watching the football.

A salad of woodpigeon came with the bird overcooked to the point that HP got a workout trying to cut through the breast meat and sitting on chicory, which came in a thick slick of balsamic. Potted mackerel was fridge fresh with the butter casing forming an almost impenetrable barrier between fork and flesh. When the excavation was a success, the fish proved to be rather nice although the squirt of basil oil dousing the lot offered little.

There was a terrine, always a good test of a kitchen. It contained ham hock and black pudding, two ingredients that usually make DH come to blows if they are not divided equally. The fact that we left chunks of this cold slab on the plate speaks volumes as did the fact that the kitchen had allowed two slices of burnt toast to leave the kitchen.

HP’s main course of saddle of rabbit on a white bean cassoulet was further evidence of pre-prep and the absence of anyone to oversee plates before serving. It was not a cassoulet, of course, it was a slice of rolled rabbit saddle on a mound of white beans in sauce. That would be excusable if it was good, but a slick of jus of indeterminable provenance over powered the whole plate so we couldn't tell if the ingredients were any good or not.

They made a half decent stab at fish & chips. The batter on the fish (our server “thought” it was haddock) was crisp and the fish flaked nicely inside its protective coat. The chips too had a crunch, but were of the unforgivable fat variety and had been formed into a chip tower, which I thought had been made illegal since 1988.

A decent and sharp tartare sauce raised the game a bit, but it was dragged down by an unforgivably parsimonious splodge of mushy peas. I didn’t mind the fact that they were, obviously, tinned. They are the best kind. I did mind that the plate contained barely a teaspoonful.

Puddings held little appeal by now, so the bill, including a bottle of wine and a sensible service charge of 10%, came to £84. Even with three starters, a lot to pay for food that showed little evidence of anyone who had been to catering college.

There were precious few diners in the place as we left but, that was true of just about every restaurant we passed on our walk home. A cold Tuesday night in January with recession just around the corner. Many places are going to find it hard to battle through the next year’s economic gloom

It might help this small group of gastro pubs if their food was any good.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You clearly know a great deal about food but you obviously know bugger all about mushy peas if you think the tinned variety are even a patch on the real thing!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 9:29:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

I'm sure HS will respond but getting decent peas in London is well-nigh impossible. Believe us, we know peas !

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 10:31:00 pm  

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