BULL AND LAST: GREAT GASTRO IN HIGHGATE - NO SHIT
On one of those rare occasions when I could hear myself think (very rare in the cut/thrust, hustle/bustle of the City - although for some strange reason the place seems a bit quieter recently) I pondered upon the subject of my favourite time to eat.
With advancing age a big breakfast is out of the question. A midweek dinner usually means indigestion - it’s those big, greasy steaks, you see - and a fuzzy head the next morning.
I came to the conclusion that if I could only eat at one time then Saturday lunch would be it. When most people are visiting the DIY Superstore, mowing the lawn or heaven forfend, buying clothes, sensible folk (that’s us) are slowly getting sozzled while scoffing great grub. Well, that’s how it usually goes.
The Bull and Last pub in Highgate hasn’t been open that long but has already garnered great reviews (as has its sister The Prince of Wales in Putney). This would normally be the kiss of death for any place for me but I decided to give it a chance and wandered along last Saturday for a spot of lunch with HS.
My initial concerns increased when I saw that all but one of their ales was off. And so it begins I thought when I saw a pile of Scotch Eggs and Sausage Rolls behind the bar. The Harwood Arms cooks them to order I huffed to HS.
As it turned out I was just being unusually and extra-curmudgeonly. The Bull and Last is an absolutely terrific gaff.
Those Scotch Eggs and Sausage Rolls had just been cooked. Both were excellent especially the Roll where the buttery, flaky pastry encased good Pork Sausage meat which had been studded with little nuggets of Black Pudding. Such a good idea I’m surprised you don’t see it more often.
Our little bar-side amuses finished we rolled up our sleeves to get stuck into the menu proper. This kitchen doesn’t hang around and the first three dishes weren’t long in arriving.
Crispy Squid was indeed, crispy, and very fresh. A pungent Aioli had us using our fingers in the only way that DH know how. Some more Porky (and Ducky) treats came on the Charcuterie board: a silky Liver Parfait was refined but with a pleasingly Offaly kick. A terrine of Belly Pork was little underseasoned but was good and fatty. As were the Rillettes.
Best of the lot was the Deep Fried Lamb Breast coming on as an English version of the Iberian Croqueta. Notably good Lamb had been shredded and breadcrumbed and fried properly so that the coating complemented rather than dominating the whole.
A dish of Pig Cheeks with Sauerkraut and Prunes had HS coming over all Greg Wallace (“It’s deep, it’s savoury, it’s…etc”) which is a bit of a coincidence as
a) they’ve both been naughty boys at a football match (although HS’s punishment was disappointingly lenient - a stern telling-off from plod ) and
b) they’re both bald.
Perfect comfort food, then, but done with no little refinement. Perfect ingreients too and, a nice touch here, instead of hiding the provenance of the ingredients in the menu they’re prouly displayed over the bar.
Triple cooked chips were up there with the best and had us engaged in one of those unseemly squabbles over the correct and fair distribution of the same. If the friendly and efficient staff hadn’t been quite so busy they would have wondered what on earth was going on. Sad, really quite sad.
While taking cinquo minutos we saw other plates of food pass by: Beef Pies with flaky, crusted tops; a big fist of Deep Fried Haddock with more of those chips; doorstep sandwiches; a steaming pot of Moules, this time served with great looking Frites. O-M-G, this kitchen does TWO types of chips.
After what had gone before it would have been a major surprise if the puds had been anything other than great. I really liked my Praline and Chocolate Ice Cream. It seems to have just the right texture, HS astutely noted.
Even better was the Marmalade version with his Chocolate Orange Fondant, both of which had HS going off on one (“it’s sweet, it’s chocolatey, it’s…etc”).
Things were beginning to liven up by the time we drained the dregs from a half bottle of Sauterne. The Nappy Valley families who had come for an early lunch had moved on to be replaced by a mixture of locals, dog-walkers and groups of lads devouring big plates of Sausage Rolls and chips. A pretty mixed crowd making for a buzzy yet civilised atmosphere. A model for pubs of the future ? Possibly, but certainly a model pub for today. Other hostelries please take note.