‘Why are we here?’ Mrs Kentishtowner flung her phone on the floor. ‘Is it only to endure endless stretches of unhappiness and pain? To be tested, then tested again? To be pushed, then pushed a little further?’
It had, I think we can conclude, been a bad day at the office. So the only solution was to upgrade our postcode for an evening in swanky old NW3. Although, some might argue that The Stag flirts with several areas: be ‘ghetto’ and call it Gospel Oak, or flatter it with Keatsian pillowtalk as Hampstead.
But at least the NW5-esque Fleet Road location means it attracts an eclectic crowd, more Oxford than Wells. And it boasts young, tattooed barstaff, flickering candles, and a huge garden, with a laidback festival atmosphere in the summer months. But the food – whilst always good – has often taken second place to the overall ‘vibe,’ man.
So it was about time they clambered aboard the all-conquering Meatwagon. G. Wadley was The Stag’s first landlord in 1874, and his name in gold font adorns this revamped dining room, complete with old b/w photos and net curtains. The effect? Victoriana meets Prohibition-era America, with a dash of 70’s suburbia thrown in for good measure. But it hangs together in its candlelit, jazz-soaked way.
We loved our Negronis (a hefty £8.50), almost creamy in texture, with a pleasing tang of citrus. Head chef Tonny Kiptoo was at Mark Hix prior to this, and his menu is short (five starters and mains), and well-priced. Portions are large: an egg in breadcrumbs with bacon and black pudding defeated us, whilst a smooth chicken liver pate with sour cauli chutney was enough for a main meal.
Our waiter Andre, resplendent in butcher’s overall, showed us the raw meats to talk through provenance, cut and size – a nice, if not quite necessary touch (Mrs Kentishtowner was rolling her eyes).
We chose the 800g Fore Rib to share – huge but packed wth flavour, if a little less tender than you might expect; in fact, more like an onglet. Bearnaise was perfect, as were sides of creamed spinach, purple-sprouting broccoli, a zesty-earthy beetroot salad, and to-die-for skinny fries. For dessert, a sherry-laden rhubarb trifle had us well and truly floored. (Or maybe that was the Pinot Noir.)
‘It’s a neighbourhood joint, isn’t it, rather than a destination,’ said Mrs Kentishtowner as we sipped heinously expensive brandies. Before I could formulate an answer, she had checked her emails, drawn breath, and continued: ‘But at least the pain can be soothed by momentary glances at happiness, can’t it?’
G Wadley’s Meat Room, The Stag, Fleet Road, NW3. Three courses and wine, around £80. Kentishtowner Rating: 7.5/10.
Words & Pictures: Stephen Emms