From humble beginnings – a steak sandwich on Farringdon Road – the gastropub grew into something of an epidemic. But don’t let that put you off, some London’s boozers have perfected the art of the perfect pint and a good feed. The Resident food columnist Tom Parker Bowles picks out his favourites…
It started with a bird. An eagle to be precise, The Eagle in Farringdon Road, opened in January 1991 by Michael Belben and David Eyre.
A pub, sure, but not just your bog standard, sticky carpeted, fag-breathed boozer, rather a place you could get food with your pint, proper tucker, cooked up in a tiny kitchen.
Nothing fancy, though, rather a steak sandwich, soup and casserole, cooked in the oven in the flat next door. And so the gastro pub was born.
You can hardly move for the damned things, the city infected with a sorry canker of second-rate restaurants
More than two decades later and the concept has been stretched to snapping point. You can hardly move for the damned things, the city infected with a sorry canker of second-rate restaurants, hiding in the shells of old pubs, the draught beers and bars long gone.
Over-sweet pulled pork sliders may have replaced dreary lamb shanks and sullen braised pork, but in many cases, the disconsolate ping of the microwave has long replaced the clatter of pan on hob.
But as ever in this great eating city, there is hope and salvation around every corner. Real pubs, serving good beer, who also happen to cook up some rather serious grub. Like The Harwood Arms in Fulham, co-owned by Brett Graham (of legendary Ledbury fame) and Mike Robinson.
They have a Michelin star, but don’t let that put you off. Game plays a big role, and the food is robust, yet quietly sublime. Don’t miss their legendary Scotch eggs.
Staying west and one of my favourite locals, The Anglesea Arms in Hammersmith. Well kept beer, a decent wine list and wonderful food. The ragu alla Bolognese is sublime.
Moving into South Kensington, The Hour Glass has had a much needed revamp and very fine it is too. You can’t go wrong with a pint of Butcombe’s and flat iron steak.
One of my favourite locals, The Anglesea Arms in Hammersmith, has well kept beer, a decent wine list and wonderful food. The ragu alla Bolognese is sublime
South of the river, there’s the ever-brilliant Anchor and Hope, a true British pioneer. On Sunday lunch, you get a vast joint of meat to share. Hooray. And The Camberwell Arms, from the same team, is another cracker. Divine fish soup, and devilled rabbit offal too.
Moving across to Wandsworth, The Earl Spencer has a range of beautifully kept beer, and some admirable cooking too.
Out east The Gun in Coldharbour, Docklands, sits pretty on the river and keeps the cooking standards suitably high. The Gun, now a Fuller’s pub, used to be part of Tom and Ed Martin’s deeply respectable ETM group of pubs, which owns other fantastic venues worthy of note including The Jugged Hare in EC1 and The Botanist in Broadgate Circle.
The Marksman, on Hackney Road, is equally excellent. Up north, The Drapers Arms is eternally joyous: good ingredients, well cooked. The same as you’ll find at the brilliant Bull and Last, with roasts that taste as good as home, as well as fried buttermilk chicken to make the tastebuds swoon.
While Parlour, in Kensal Rise, has the hugely talented Jesse Dunford Wood at the helm. Oh, and don’t forget The Eagle, still flying high. The original gastro pub – and still one of the best.
Lead image courtesy The Hour Glass