There is little doubt that the rise of the gastropub has improved the standard of food in Britain, but I also think that it has allowed a lot of unscrupulous pub owners to serve up the same old rubbish, just at a higher price and including a compulsory service charge. I recently ate at two gastropubs and have written up a brace of mini-reviews reflecting my mixed experiences at each.
The Eagle: 2 Shepherdess Walk, Hoxton, N1 7LB
Nearest tube: Old Street
The Eagle was apparently the very first gastropub (it started serving proper food in the early nineties) and I can see how the original concept worked. Half of the bar has been converted into a kitchen and there are a couple of chefs working away over an open grill; there are no menus, just one chalk board sporting about 5 choices, with no such thing as “starters” or “mains”. You order and pay at the bar, and there is no reserved area for eating, you just need to mix in with the assorted drinkers (a mix of hipsters, young professionals and lads’ nights out as far as I could tell).
I side-stepped the famous steak sandwich in favour of a lasagne (£9) which was extremely rich – the ragu utilised a lot of red wine and was made with good quality mince. It was very unfussily presented and was simply served with wonderful homebaked bread. The Eagle is really just a normal London pub that also serves food rather than a bistro that serves poor food, which brings me on to The Tommyfield.
The Tommyfield: 185 Kennington Lane, SE11 4EZ
Nearest tube: Kennington
The Tommyfield must have been a traditional pub a few years ago but it has now been converted to a modern gastropub complete with a separate dining area, Polish waiting staff and an open kitchen. The menu is uninspiring and relatively expensive (for what it is), with offerings like lamb shank (£14.50) and Pork ribs (£12.50). The interior is clean, clinical and seems like the work of a deeply unoriginal interior designer. Unfortunately the decor does not lend itself to the creation of a congenial atmosphere and the place was pretty dead when I visited, with large TVs showing football, only a peppering of people eating and not a single punter at the bar.
I started with the chicken liver parfait (£6) which was pretty decent and came with light buttery toast soldiers and a tart pickled onion. For main course I opted for a rabbit pie (£11) which was served with soggy chips and instant gravy. I think the pie might have been bought in because the pastry work was very neat and the sauce generic, but the quality of the meat was good. The portion sizes were very large and I was far too full for dessert.
My meal at the Tommyfield wasn’t too bad, but it was completely lacking in atmosphere; however, if you want to visit a proper gastropub I recommend The Eagle.