As I mentioned in my last posting about London restaurants, defining oneself as a gastropub is sort of the thing to do if you serve food at your pub these days. Now, whether or not the cuisine is actually reaching the heights of gastro or simply wallowing as bog standard pub grub, is another matter all together. Because pub food in London is pricey no matter what it’s quality, I’ve decided to highlight a few of my favorites that serve decidedly gastro quality fare. There’s no need to get ripped off on £12 fish and chips when you can try something with a lot more panache.
When we lived in Primrose Hill we were lucky enough to have two excellent eating pubs just down the road from us. On any given night you could walk down to the “local” and get an interesting meal in a casual setting. Being Primrose Hill, the prices are up there, but you do get an ever-changing menu full of interesting options when you eat at The Lansdowne. Usually their soup of the day is something special and they always offer a really great fish dish. If that just won’t do, their thin and crispy pizzas are a treat – particularly the squash pizza which I know sounds vile to some but is absolutely delicious. On a warm summer’s day the picnic tables outside are a hot commodity with the posh neighborhood families and camden artists alike. But inside, on a cold day, it’s almost as inviting.
On my very first day in London four and a half years ago, my lovely husband took me to The Salusbury in Queen’s Park. It was late October but still just warm enough to sit outside and eat a bowl of their pappardelle with duck ragout. If I remember correctly, I also had a yummy chicken liver pate with some toast points to start and likely a couple of nice glasses of red wine. It was probably at that moment that I decided that I could probably live here and be OK. We still come here often and the food is consistently good. I love their fried zucchini to start and they have a radish salad with pecorino and truffle oil that’s particularly delightful. The dining room is sort of art deco chic while the pub side has a cozy fireplace – what more do you need?
I’m not letting the cat out of the bag if I tell you about The Westbourne on the outskirts of Notting Hill. It’s the absolute best place to hang out on a warm sunny afternoon and thankfully their food is delicious too. You will most likely find yourself doing a lot of people watching as the fabulous and those who just think they are load up on pitchers of Pimms in between air kisses. There is a giant terrace full of tables that catches the sun until the very last moment before it sets on the horizon – possibly London’s only sun catcher. I like to get some oysters to go along with a crisp, cold glass of rose and then maybe a steak with bearnaise sauce and some frites. Doesn’t that just sound like the best way to spend a warm summer’s afternoon? Well, I have whiled away many an hour here with dear friends and recommend you do too.
Just down the road from The Westbourne is another old favorite, The Oak. They’re best known for their wood fired pizzas but I love going there for a large board of salumi, antipasti and other various Italian inspired nibbles. Seasonal produce is the catchphrase of the day at this place, the occasional dish of game, some fantastic pasta, really just about anything you’re craving is going to be yummy. They do a fantastic job of taking British produce and then using Italian techniques to bring out the best in their ingredients. The Oak is always packed to the gills so go early or make a booking and try a pizza just once because they’re delicious!
One of my favorite memories of my early days in Primrose Hill was walking down to The Engineer on a really hot summer day and eating pancakes and bacon in their little enclosed garden in the back. Paired with some strong coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, I thought I was in heaven. This place also serves my favorite bloody marys in all of London and they whip up an excellent eggs benedict if you’re craving something savory instead of sweet. Even on the windiest day, the little walled garden in back keeps you warm (sometimes you need the help of their heatlamps) but I have to say that the purple wallpapered dining room is inviting if the weather doesn’t cooperate or the garden is fully booked (often the case). I also recommend their burger and the roasts aren’t half bad either. Occasionally there is live music and very often one of the many celebrities who live in the hood pop in for a pint….if that’s your thing.