A vegetarian at the Anchor & Hope? I know, I know – it seems so wrong. But I promise I’ve been very well fed there in the past. More than anything else, I love the bustling atmosphere of the bar that spills over into the restaurant, the heavy red velvet curtains that divide the two sections, the buzz of the crowd, and that joyful moment when a waiter fights his way through them all to tell you that you finally have a table.

On a rainy Thursday evening, Laura and I splashed our way along The Cut to one of my favourite pubs. It was her first visit (it featured on her wish-list for 2010), and my heart sank when I saw how busy the bar was. How would we find anywhere to linger over our pre-dinner drinks, let alone to sit down and eat? We were warned of an hour-long wait for a table, which disappeared in a blur of verdicchio, Guinness, and gossip. Finally seated around a corner of a table for six, I was a little disappointed by my available menu options. Not to worry – I’d known what I was letting myself in for, and a quick iPhone search revealed that leeks gribiche was, indeed, vegetarian. I plumped for that, along with a green salad and new potatoes. Laura could be more adventurous, and chose a cuttlefish and ink risotto and a small plate of bresaola, and I treated myself to a glass of prune and prosecco fizz to make up for my restrained dinner.

Leeks gribiche

The leeks were beautifully cooked – tender, but still flavoursome – and the tasty sauce added a very welcome hit of rich, dairy goodness. Laura later declared her risotto to be “awfully nice”, and tucked into the bresaola with gusto.

Bresaola; cuttlefish risotto; new potatoes (obvs); leeks gribiche

I’d already made my mind up that a dessert was most definitely in order, shared or otherwise. Luckily, Laura was of the same opinion, and we shared a quince and almond tart that was, without a doubt, the highlight of the meal for me. The tart was stickily glazed, with quince cooked to tender perfection and beautifully buttery pastry, and came topped with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. As we headed out into the dark, damp night and the infinitely less convivial surroundings of the Victoria line, I was warmed by the memory of such a fantastic dessert.

Quince and almond tart


I seem to have eaten out an awful lot over the last week, and although this account is sans pictures, due to general disorganisation, communal eating embarrassment and low lighting, there’s definitely been some tasty food about.

St John’s, near Archway Station, has had a mention (below) relatively recently, but due to its all-round loveliness and the difficulty of finding a restaurant open on Bank Holiday Monday, we found ourselves trotting up Holloway Road again last week. The main bar was closed for refurbishment (and may be for a couple of weeks yet), but our table in the dining room was the perfect place to be on a summer’s evening. With very low lighting and doors open on to the patio, the atmosphere was warm and convivial, if not ideal for photographs. My gazpacho was perhaps not up to the standard of that I tasted at Terroirs recently, but was rustic and garlicky. I followed it with several enormous gnocchi served with purple sprouting broccoli, spinach purée and parmesan – delicious, but ultimately too much for me.

Friday lunchtime found me in the champagne bar at St Pancras station, accompanying some delicious eggs florentine and Eton mess with an assortment of champagnes (Bollinger, Taittinger, Dom Perignon… you name it, we drank it). Although it was difficult to get the waiter’s attention at times, it’s a lovely way to while away an afternoon. The bar runs alongside the Eurostar platform, fuelling plans to nip over to Paris in time for a kir royale and dinner, and the light, airy atmosphere of the renovated station is the perfect setting for lunch and an indulgent tipple.

For Saturday lunch, we paid a visit to the recently reopened Canonbury (formerly the Canonbury Tavern). Since the pub is very close to my house indeed and apparently has ‘central London’s largest beer garden’, I was desperate to try the food out and hopefully discover a new local gem. A major downside, which quickly became apparent, is the incredibly slow service; we were waiting for food an hour after we arrived, even allowing for our own prevarications. I’m reliably informed, however, that the chips are well worth waiting for, and everyone was pretty happy with their food. My asparagus and pecorino ravioli was good, but would have been infinitely preferable dressed with a herb butter sauce rather than the cloying landslide of hot, spinachy crème fraîche that threatened to smother it. Nice garden, though, in spite of the persistently yapping dog.

Paying yet another visit to a recently discovered favourite, we were at the Bull & Last on Sunday night for supper and the pub quiz. I opted for a grilled artichoke tarte fine with sheep’s cheese and tomato, with turned out to be tiny but incredibly flavoursome all the same. A side of their triple-cooked chips with garlic mayo was absolutely heavenly – perfectly crisp outside, fluffy and soft inside. A triumph worth burning your mouth for. P tucked into fish and chips with a wonderfully tarragony tartare sauce (amazing with my chips), and who knows? – maybe the delicious grub was the reason we won the quiz. It certainly did the trick, anyway, especially when washed down with the bottle of prosecco bought with our winnings.

And lastly… Busaba Eathai. The Bloomsbury branch of Alan Yau’s Thai chain used to be a fairly regular haunt – I love the low lighting, dark wood, and the aromatic butternut pumpkin curry I can’t help choosing every time. For some reason, a craving for their food hit me yesterday afternoon, and come 8pm P and I were tucking in on Store Street, with pat prik king prawn and a coconut carrot and orange juice (“It’s a bit like pudding”) for him, and the aforementioned curry with a glass of viognier for me. Only one complaint: the curry-sauce-to-rice ratio is all wrong, and you tend to end up with a bowlful of the spicy, fragrant, rich sauce left once the pumpkin and rice have gone. Is it really acceptable to eat this like a soup, I wonder?

I love birthdays. Particularly other people’s. The opportunity to gorge oneself, guilt-free, safe in the knowledge that such celebratory gluttony is simply to be expected, is a very welcome one. In celebration of the lovely Sarah’s birthday (happy birthday, Sarah!), we did ourselves proud: Sunday breakfast at Ottolenghi on Upper Street (I’m not on commission, promise); Sunday lunch at the Bull and Last; and Monday lunch at Terroirs. As bitter as it makes me feel to realise that everyday life will not always be like this, it was the most amazing extended foodie weekend.

On Sunday morning, we started bright and early in Islington. Eyes proved bigger than bellies for some of the party (well, me), but we troughed valiantly through the assorted treats on offer. I went for the bread board with an almond croissant, mostly thanks to the tempting array of jams and spreads on the table.

Carby goodness

Carby goodness

Jam jam jam…

Jam jam jam…

Having scoffed down the amazing pastry, I had to admit defeat when faced with two slices of flavoursome sourdough and a piece of fantastic grape focaccia topped with fennel seeds. One slice, smothered with fantastically thick, nutty chocolate spread, was quite enough. My boyfriend’s choice almost tempted me from the straight and narrow path of vegetarianism for a moment: a beany, bacony, sausagey stew on toasted sourdough with a fried egg on the side. I was content to merely sniff at it in the end.

Incredibly, I was absolutely famished by lunchtime. The Bull and Last in Parliament Hill/Kentish Town/Gospel Oak (delete as applicable) was our destination, and came through with one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Starting with a salad of grilled artichokes with almonds, juicy grapes and shavings of pungent sheep’s cheese, I had high hopes for the rest of the afternoon.


I was not to be disappointed. My main course of pea fritters with pea shoots, Jersey Royals, shallots, broad beans and cow’s curd was one of the tastiest, most moreish and best balanced dishes I have ever had the pleasure to eat. The fritters themselves were something I’d be happy to eat every day for the rest of my life: light, crisp batter surrounding soft nuggets of partly-mushed peas… heavenly. The proportions were perfect: the creamy cow’s curd sitting alongside the crisp salad leaves and the more pungent raw shallots, with a welcome bit of ballast from the potatoes. I might have even stopped talking for a moment while I ate.

Phwoar. More please.

Phwoar. More please.

After such wondrousness, I would have ordered dessert even if that meant being carried from the room afterwards. I wavered for a while over the chocolate fondant with caramel ice-cream, but eventually settled on the English raspberries with shortbread and homemade lavender ice-cream. And a more fitting end to the eat-fest there could not have been. The ice-cream was gorgeously floral and creamy, the shortbread sweet and buttery, and the raspberries deliciously sharp. Slumped tipsily in the pub proper afterwards, I struggled to think of a time when I’d had a better, more enjoyable and more delicious meal. I may have to move into their kitchen.

Pudding perfection

Pudding perfection