I finally had my chance to check out the London gastropub scene. Staying out in Northwest London’s handsome, tree-lined, Victorian row house street defined village of Hampstead, I booked us into The HORSESHOE, a welcome gastro/microbrewery rebirth of an old, dreary run down pub on Hampstead Street which years ago convinced me that there were better places to sip ale. Fresh paint, smart lighting, minimalist decor, relaxed service, easy microbrews, and farm to fork sensibility were enough to completely overshadow a couple of disappointing glasses of wine and launch our serious plan for a return visit.
The pub was an iconic reminder of my twenty years in Boston watching a food scene transition from vapid to vital. Before this visit, the image of a London Pub serving serious food held as much promise as the discovery of real bagels, pizza, or pastrami in Boston.
They serve two different beers from the basement microbrewery. I tried both: Camden Spring Ale and Camden Best Bitters. The Ale was gold/orange in color , creamy and light with low carbonation, with a pleasing barley flavor. It was an easygoing brew with a quick finish and little lingering aftertaste. The Camden Best was a more serious brew, but amber/burnt orange in color and only a close cousin to the darker richer bitters I have experienced in other London pubs. It had depth and structure with aromas and flavors reminiscent of kumquat and orange peel intermingled with its hopsy background.
On the flip side, the Iberian red and Minervois white wines were either disappointingly simple, bad representatives of varietal, or vegetally tinged. I won’t mention the red since it had little redeeming quality at all. The white, 2006 Hegarty Chamans Blanc from Minervois is comprised of Marsanne and Rousanne. The wine was simple and flabby but it did offer some charming anise aromas and an oily mouthfeel that I enjoy in this kind of wine. Still, I don’t recommend it.
Accompanying the satisfying microbrews were these highlight dishes:
Ham hock white bean soup
Mussels, surf clams, fennel, saffron, and parsley
Chicken liver parfait, toast, and pear chutney
Sutton Hoo chicken, poached baby carrots, turnip, parsley, and capers
Blytheburgh pork belly, ginger pear puree, and watercress
As impressive was some Red and Green Kale and Purple Sprouting Brocoli with Parmesan shavings.
The meal was rich in flavor and true to its farm and sea origin. The menu was full of choice including line caught Pollack and local Haddock to fill out a lighter side of the gastro experience. There was a smart feel to the entire place and a good Friday night vibe of local Hampsteaders and even some South Londoners reveling in this very special remake. I fully recommend a visit to The HORSESHOE and assure you that you won’t feel like you are missing the central London fine dining scene even for a second.
The HORSESHOE: 28 Heath Street, Hampstead, London NW3 6TE Phone: 020 7437 7206