THE STAG: SUNDAY LUNCH IN THE SUN
Is The Stag really in Hampstead as they claim? I am pretty sure that Fleet Road is one of those that people who live there think is Hampstead and tell people is Hampstead but is really Belsize Park.
No matter, if I am not sure where The Stag is, I am pretty sure what it is. It is the new pub from Jonathan and Andrew Perritt the brothers behind the popular Regent in Kensal Green. I also know that, on what is probably going to be the last sunny weekend of the year, it was actually rather a pleasant place to have Sunday lunch.
While the pub itself has been sensitively restored, The Stag’s main selling point is its garden, which is large and welcoming with booths dotted around the outside and benches in the middle. Rather cleverly, the booths each have their own little heaters so they can be used the year round, but as we sat in shirtsleeves in the Sun dappled garden, they didn’t get a look in. What did was that all too a rare beast in London these days, a decent pint of beer. Inevitably they have the ubiquitous Tim Taylor’s Landlord on draught, the real ale de choix of London’s twenty somethings who seem to think that since Madonna drinks it, it’s safe for them. More unusually they had Flowers on tap too and the young barman actually knew what he was doing, tasting before he poured a full and excellent pint for each of us. People in pubs caring about their beer, it could catch on.
There are only four starter choices on the menu at around the £5-6 a pop and a retro dish of garlic mushrooms lacked any vampire scaring element at all and a handful of the button variety sat in a puddle of murky liquid in their pan. Like rolled up jackets sleeves there is a reason why things like this should just be a bad memory from the 80’s. HP’s chilli prawns at £6 was over priced, but an improvement on my own choice with small, sweet prawns and a decent bite of heat.
The Sunday roast of Orkney Island beef could have been a little more rare, but came with a full complement of trimmings, which, with the exception of some pretty nasty horseradish mash, were all polished off enthusiastically by HP. The carrots in particular came in for special praise for tasting like carrots, which tells you a lot about the age in which we now live.
My own choice of Haddock & Chips met with DH approval too, which, given our shallow and seemingly vain search for the real thing in London, is praise indeed. The batter should have been more like the people and the batter up North, i.e. thicker, but the fish underneath was cooked perfectly and, God bless them, they had left the skin on. The few chips I managed to protect from HP’s roving fingers were spot on too and only a dodgy take on mushy peas let the side down.
The Stag offers a large list of British cheese sold by the 70gm portion. I imagine they hope will be these will be taken up in lieu of ruffian type snacks of pork scratchings and peanuts by Hampstead punters, I have my doubts and we bypassed them in favour of a bowl of profiteroles and some a selection of ice cream whose existence HP wheedled out of our waitress by using his considerable charm. The former were fine, the latter were delicious and came, I suspect from Marine Ices not terribly far away.
From a very short list of wines, we chose a £17 bottle of Sicilian Syrah, an offer we could and should have refused in favour of another pint of beer and that brought our bill to £65 + tip. We were uncertain what the wooden spoon in a glass bearing our server’s name was for and, being sad, lonely and middle aged we engaged in lurid fantasies of admonishing our waitress if she came up short in her task of catering to every DH need. Unfortunately, she was terrific so we never found out. Damn.
£30+ per person strikes me as rather a lot to pay for a meal of decent rather than exemplary cooking but, as HP reminded me, the main courses were good and good value and it is welcome to see a pub staying as a pub serving a bit of food rather than becoming a restaurant with a bar.
I can see The Stag and particularly the garden becoming a welcome hang out for the young folk of Hampstead, or is that Belsize Park?