Anchor & Hope, London, SE1

With its award-winning ways, unforgettable food and unpretentious manner, the Anchor & Hope is doing quite well enough without you hogging a table
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

The Anchor & Hope ran away with the Best Gastropub award in London at Monday night's glamorous Tio Pepe ITV London Restaurant Awards to cries of hallelujah and praise the lard. Damn it.

The Anchor & Hope ran away with the Best Gastropub award in London at Monday night's glamorous Tio Pepe ITV London Restaurant Awards to cries of hallelujah and praise the lard. Damn it.

It's not that it doesn't deserve it. I still dream of the mutton and barley stew I had on my first visit. It looked like a nasty accident but tasted as if it had been simmering away for two days on a wood-fired Aga in the kitchen of a sheep farm. It's just that I won't be able to get a table any more.

The A&H is the by-blow of two of the most important influences on British dining in the past 10 years: the uncompromisingly minimalist St John, and the ground-breaking London gastropub, the Eagle.

Co-chef Jonathan Jones and bar manager Rob Shaw hail from St John, while co-chef Harry Lester cooked at the Eagle as well as its sister pub, the Fox, both of which are owned by fourth partner Mike Belben.

So what does all this mean? It means you get a pub that looks, feels and acts like a pub. You get bare floorboards and wooden furniture that looks as if it were mugged on the way to school; plain-Jane light fittings and a real bar where bartenders pull pints of Bombadier and Red Stripe.

You get a kitchen the size of a postage stamp and an open servery lined with a batallion of beaten-up Le Creuset casseroles. You get chalk boards of wine specials and a daily changing menu that acts as a sirens' song to people who like real food.

Because you also get salted finnan haddock with poached egg and mash; warm snail and bacon salad; braised hare with semolina gnocchi; and rib of beef with chips and béarnaise. Four people can order cassoulet; eight people can order a haunch of venison.

So tonight I am back for more - and so is half of London. I only just scrape up a share of a communal table by turning up at 6.30pm. By 7pm, I'm halfway through a nicely structured bottle of 2000 Rasteau Côtes du Rhône Villages (at £26, one of the most expensive wines on the list) and a generous slab of pressed chicken and bacon terrine (£5.80) and thinking I quite like eating dinner at children's hours.

The terrine is crazy-paving you can eat; lovely pink slabs of meat grouted with a creamy herb farce. It comes with a fruity pumpkin chutney made by chef Harry's mum that does it a power of good.

The menu is, in truth, a list of great produce. Nothing is out-of-season or out-of-order, and everything tastes of what it is. A salad (£5) is a rockpile of bouncy beets strewn with fresh cress and messed up with a creamy horseradish dressing. Similarly, a duck-leg confit, white beans and cabbage is exactly that; the golden confit so gently textured under its crisp skin that it almost falls off the bone from sheer gravity.

More cabbage appears in the choucroute (£11.20), probably because it's the only green vegetable you can find in the last gasp of winter. Here, it is laid-back and lightly pickled in a very Mr Piggy dish of smoky caraway-flavoured Montbeliard sausage, good mealy white-pudding, shreddy house-cured ham and a slab of gorgeously tender middle white pork, the lot lightened with a few potatoes and carrots. It's a family of tastes, each sibling porky bit tasting distinct but sharing characteristics, having wallowed in the same broth.

Eating here is like reading a really, really good book; you don't want it to end. To stretch it out, I order pudding; anything but give up the table and go home. The chocolate cake (£4.80) is obscenely, insanely rich; as if made up of the insides of 3,000 chocolate truffles. More homely is a large wedge of bakewell tart (£5) carved from the mothership hovering on the servery as if in an old cartoon. It's a crusty, jammy, almond-scented treat.

The Anchor is not going to suit everyone. You can't book, you have to turn up early for lunch or dinner; you may have to share a table; it's as noisy and as smoky as any pub; and most wines are served in glass tumblers, which both my wine and I dislike equally.

Is it too late, by the way, to reject the term gastropub? It makes me feel as if I'll pick up some ghastly stomach bug. If we need to codify, then it should be the bistropub, for surely the gastropub is the British equivalent of the French bistro: a neighbourly feeding house. The bistropub is a beacon shining in a desert of over-priced, under-loved food, and the Anchor & Hope is the best example I have seen so far.

It is no Tosser & Grope for stressed-out City boys and girls, but a relaxed, generous and big-flavoured dining-room for lovers of real food. It combines the best of both St John and the Eagle, with the non-interventionist cooking of one and the cosy warmth of the other, without being so unpretentious that it is almost pretentious.

The Anchor & Hope shows what the genre of bistro-pubbery can, and should, be, with its naked cooking, no-nonsense service and un-greedy prices. It's the sort of place that makes me want to go on being a restaurant critic forever and ever.

16 Anchor & Hope 36 The Cut, London SE1, tel: 020 7928 9898. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and Monday to Saturday for dinner. Around £75 for two with wine and service

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Second helpings: More new bistropubs

The Bridge 58 Bridge Street, Manchester, tel: 0161 8340 242 First licensed as a public house in 1798, the Bridge was recently taken over by Robert Owen Brown, who was previously chef at Lounge 10 and Brasserie St Pierre. Gorgeous dark, panelled walls, wooden floors and stained-glass windows add to the character of the place as does Brown's shrimp pasties and black-pudding potato-cakes served with poached eggs.

The Clayton Arms 23 High Street, Clayton West, West Yorkshire, tel: 01484 865 005 When Mike Pearce inherited the pub he grew up in - then called the Commercial Inn - he promptly reinvented it. Today, the stainless-steel loo fittings and contemporary café ambience are the talk of the town. Chef Bernard Kelly uses only local meats from Denby Dale for the steak au poivre, beef pie and Sunday roast.

The Hartley 64 Tower Bridge Road, London SE1, tel: 020 7394 7023 What was the Pagoda Pub & Hostel is now the Hartley, with a new chef in the shape of Kirwin Browne. His refined take on British/French cooking draws in plenty of new regulars who come for the terrine of ham knuckle and foie gras terrine, daube of ox cheek and steak, kidney and oyster pudding.

E-mail Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at t.durack@independent.co.uk

Comments