- Food & Drink
In my mind, the Barbican is a concrete citadel, its blank walls occasionally broken by doorways that lead to wine bars offering Mediterranean platters for 2. It’s a place of culture but a desert of cuisine.
I was going to breach this arts castle for a night of hushed, high-faultin’ culture (I went to the cinema and saw a rom com) but what about dinner? I’ve laid a lot of flesh down in anticipation of Winter and I don’t want to burn an ounce of it off surviving a night at a national arts institution.
I put out an appeal on twitter and was swiftly reminded that, although the Barbican is a concrete citadel, it’s also right next to Smithfield. FoodUrchin recommended the Fox and Anchor, a pub with rooms off Charterhouse Street. The menu included fish finger sandwiches. I immediately booked a table for 2.
Bellerina and I arrived there just before 7 and were lead to our table past a pile of pies, an oyster counter and the carving trolley. This was no Wetherspoons. Our table was tucked round the back and gothickly lit with a black candle (hence the grainy images). I was glad to see a bottle of Sarson’s in the box of condiments. I once went to a gastro pub that bought out a small dipping bowl of balsamic when we asked for vinegar for our chips. When pubs get too fancy for malt vinegar, they get too pretentious for me.
We ordered 2 Maldon oysters to start. I’ve never had oysters before. What can I say? I grew up by the sea and know that the briny is a place to urinate on hot summer days and therefore, you should treat anything that comes out of it with suspicion. Bellerina took me through the rigmarole of loosening it, squeezing over the lemon and applied reassurance as necessary. Reader, I ate that oyster and it was a mouthful of fresh sea air and salt water. I loved it.
Moving on from that vibrant slap in the tastebuds, we ordered a mix of starters and sides to share. A board of decent bread arrived with a pat of Netherend Farm unsalted butter and a bowl of salt. The sweet butter had enough of a salt tang to satisfy Bellerina, but I like to risk my heart and kidneys and scattered on the salty crunch.
Our table swiftly filled up with smoked trout pâté and beetroots, a scotch egg with curried mayonnaise, a mushroom, spinach and cheese tart, goose fat chips and chicken livers and mushrooms on toast.
A man walked past our table. He stopped. He stared. “That is SO MUCH food!” He goggled some more. “And it’s only Wednesday!” Within minutes we’d converted him to our decadent ways and I later saw a march of starters making its way towards his table, but it’s nice to know you can still shock the locals in central London.
The highlight of the meal was the chicken livers and mushrooms on toast. The livers were cooked pink and were soft, tender, melting mouthfuls of organ meat that Bellerina and I went fork to fork over. Goose fat chips were crunchy and fluffy and thicker than two of my fingers pressed together. They let out a puff of steam when I bit into them and, fortunately, the very good scotch egg came with so much mayo that there was plenty left for dipping, although Bellerina gave the HP a good thumping too.
I was intimidated by the enormous slab of the spinach and mushroom tart (how big can the main meal version be?), but it was a soufflé in a pastry case. I scarfed my half with barely a tightening sensation in my waistband. Lastly the trout pâté was ordinary but the beetroots that came with it were extraordinary. Intensely earthy, they were the turf to the surf of my oysters.
Service was charming and the bill, including service and two lime and sodas (reports of our decadence may be overstated) was £38. I cannot think of a better meal I’ve had in a pub in a long time, even if it is a pub where you can book the tables. Bring on Winter. I want to sit in the snug and eat pie and drink ale.