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FIVE STAR DINING AT ISLINGTON’S PUBLIC HOUSE

Islington’s Public House has long been a quirky nightlife hotspot off the beaten track, but now Head Chef Tim Parsons is transforming the hidden gem into one of the hottest dining tickets around

Public House on Islington Park Street certainly knows how to surprise you. Tucked away just off Upper Street, as a drinking den it offers a world of intrigue: from the eclectic, cabinet of curiosities style interior – including vintage mismatched chairs, sofas and modern architectural photographs – to a cocktail list that, bizarrely, takes war and peace as an inspiration (it’s all in the names). I haven’t had a bad night out there, but also hadn’t eaten there until recently. I have been missing out.

It’s been nigh on a year since Canadian Tim Parsons took over as Head Chef and you feel he’s really finding his feet. ‘The first thing that attracted me was the fact it was a small place,’ he tells me when I speak to him a couple of hours before a busy Friday night kicks into gear. ‘My experience of working in places like this before is you get a very quick grasp on the place, and you are always working with the key people. I have worked mostly in South London, in the likes of Battersea and Clapham, but I have always tracked Upper Street. It’s really eclectic and there are some really good places, but one thing that ties them all together is that it’s very casual.’

Having worked with top chefs like Jamie Oliver, Bruno Loubet and Ed Bains previously – ‘The chefs I have always worked with have a confidence about their cooking, but it doesn’t come across as bravado’ – Tim has plenty of experience to fall back on, as well as being able to delve into his passion for gardening. ‘The big thing for me is always what’s in season,’ he says on creating a menu, ‘people are really keen to see that. Being into gardening means the two things can go hand in hand. So it’s the seasonal aspect first, and then it’s what your team can accomplish – we try to do the most adventurous things we can. I like to stretch my abilities.’

The menu at Public House matches its setting for eclecticism. Changing frequently, when I visited starters included potted pheasant, bacon butter, heritage carrots and watercress, or the fabulous combination of smoked mackerel, kohlrabi, apple and radishes. Maybe it says something about my personality, but I opted for the comparatively simple offering of salt and pepper squid with spiced aioli. Boring perhaps, but I didn’t care as – for once – this wasn’t a squid offering lathered in overpowering batter, but a lighter offering that for me was the perfect appetizer.

The mains were something else. My guest and I tossed a coin for the Tamworth pork shoulder – I lost, but didn’t feel cheated with my Ayreshire rump steak, shoulder pie and onion puree. I am not an OTT steak lover and this was a splendid cut of meat, but it was the accompanying shoulder pie that blew me away. No words can describe how tasty I found it. Desserts were cute, quaint and excellent – the chocolate brownie with honeycomb and peanut butter parfait probably just edging out the salted caramel chocolate truffles. Three months into 2015 and this is my best meal of the year to date without doubt.

Tim takes all the superlatives I send his way on board and it’s just the kind of thing that added to the appeal of Public House in the first place. ‘Here you are able to interact with the customer,’ Tim says agreeably. ‘I am getting a lot of positive feedback and customers often pop their head through the kitchen door. You learn about what they like.’

So if you are keen on sampling high end dining without all the extravagance, a little trip off Upper Street could be just the ticket. But don’t go thinking Tim will let all the plaudits coming his way go to his head and turn the venue into a fine dining only experience. ‘We want to match themes,’ Tim says looking ahead. ‘Last year we did a menu based around absinthe. That went really well, so we will be doing more of that.’ Expect a few more surprises at Public House.

Interview by Mark Kebble

54 Islington Park StreetN1 1PX; 020 7359 6070; boutiquepubs.com

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