Review: Farmer Tom Jones at The Abbey Tavern

Ever since we heard about Farmer Tom Jones at The Abbey we’ve been curious. Whilst we really quite like the …

Farmer Tom poses with a fan

Ever since we heard about Farmer Tom Jones at The Abbey we’ve been curious. Whilst we really quite like the pioneering Kentish Town boozer, with its laidback dive bar feel, it’s been let down by an average food offering. Not that that puts off the hordes of kids and students who pack the joint at the weekends.

So the news that a Herefordshire farmer, who had previous supplied meat to St John, the Anchor & Hope, and Barrica, was now resident ‘farmer, butcher, cook’ tickled our tastebuds straight away. From ‘field to plate’, Farmer Tom wants to be in control all the way. And why not?

We popped by and examined the hand-scrawled menu, with its line-drawn diagrams of pigs, cows and sheep detailing the different cuts – and were hooked. But it was a noisy Friday night, and didn’t seem in keeping with enjoying some fine tucker. So we went to Pane Vino for some linguine with bottarga instead.

We popped back the following Tuesday. Much quieter, and more suited to peruse what Tom is actually trying to do. The handwritten menu is dated daily – always a good sign – and there were three animals listed: a saddleback pig, Hereford Cattle and Radnor Hill sheep. Also a couple of interesting veggie dishes like cauliflower and cumin fritters.

We tried some ‘mouse’ steak to start, sometimes known as the knuckle or silverside (handily illustrated on the diagram, of course). It came with gherkins, capers and mustard but we enjoyed its flavour more unadorned. An intriguing opener; quite tender, too.

Farmer Tom’s sidekick Alex appeared and explained that they had two cuts of steak – sirloin and rib-eye. The beef is hung for a minimum of 28 days, and is all free range (and organic, though uncertified). The animals are subject to traditional farming methods like field rotation, and not pushed around. They have happy lives (at least until they find themselves at The Abbey, I guess).

We plumped for the sirloin and – because we are now all burger crazy – a cheeseburger with chilli jam. Both came with a well-dressed retro salad and lovely home-made chips (a bit like your mum made in the 80s. Or 90s). And everything is served on fashionable salvaged 1940s-style crockery.

The burger was packed with flavour and as juicy as any at Honest or Dirty; it was a tad overdone though for our palates. I’m always surprised why some chefs say they can’t do burgers rare or medium rare (as Dirty Burger initially did) and others, like Honest, serve them rare willy-nilly. Can anyone out there enlighten us? Obviously the meat being used is properly aged and of exceptional quality in all these places.

Anyway, the rare steak was wonderful: served simply, without bearnaise or indeed any sauce, yet deliciously chargrilled, juicy, peppery. And at £15 something of a bargain for meat of this quality.

Farmer Tom Jones fits right into Kentish Town’s burgeoning provenance-obsessed food scene. If you love the new Soho House openings, if you’re partial to the Camden Brewery Bar, Streetfeast, E Mono, or Colonel Fawcett, then come to this corner of K-Town and support this equally innovative offering. It’s worth adding that the back room would make the perfect candle-lit Chicken Shop-esque 1940s-style dining room, perhaps more in keeping with the mood than the often riotous surrounds of the main bar proper. What really struck us on our visit was that the menu isn’t being appreciated enough. Most punters were just knocking back the pints.

But it’s one to watch. We predict big things for Farmer Tom, with a tweak here and there. And don’t forget The Abbey’s beer and meat festival runs from Oct 3 – 11. So that’s a good time to try his fare, if not before. As for tonight? Well, it’ll be rammed. But hopefully with diners too.

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Kentishtowner Rating: 7.5/10 Mains £8 to £15. The Abbey is at 124 Kentish Town Road. Meal for two with bottle house wine around £40.

Words: Stephen Emms


  • Show Comments

  • Witters

    We went to the Abbey for lunch on Sunday, and I have to say we were very disappointed.
    Firstly we had 2 veggies with us. Having already phoned ahead to confirm they’d have the “amazing vegetarian options” it boasts on their website, they had none prepared and quickly scrawled out a Vegetarian menu of bean salad plus yorkshire pudding and roast vegetables (to be fair to the manager, he was highly apologetic).

    The rest of the menu consisted of roast lamb or roast beef. Nothing more.
    No starters. Not much choice of main. And no pudding.
    The manager politely explained that they were trying to get Farmer Tom to see the wider picture of what people want for a meal, rather than just the meat part.

    But at least the meat would be good, no?
    It wasn’t particularly succulent and was not that well cooked (e.g. the fat on the lamb was pervasive and not at all rendered down).

    Tom might be a great farmer or butcher, but perhaps he should leave the cooking to someone else?

    • Sarah Peak

      I agree, re the lack of choice. I used to really like the food at The Abbey, but haven’t been since they changed the menu. I don’t eat red meat, so only had one option – cauliflower fritters, which didn’t grab me, so we went elsewhere. I like the idea of Farmer Tom and his produce, for the meaties, but please add a few more dishes to the menu, Abbey!

  • Martin

    This “resident farmer, butcher, cook” – does he milk em in Herefordshire in the moring, kill em in the afternoon, and lug em into town and heave them in the oven in the evening? I don’t think so!

    • Kentishtowner

      Since the meat is hung for 28 days, Martin, it is indeed unlikely… But we were told he goes back and forth to the farm a couple of times a week. We’re sure he’ll respond to all the points raised here anyway.

  • Zoe

    I like the Abbey Tavern a lot and was pretty happy with the food, but last time I went there I was not happy with this new menu. There were hardly any options available – what if you don’t want meat with veg? When we were there they didn’t even have burgers available, which used to be really good. To be perfectly honest I don’t care where my food comes from and I don’t need to see a diagram of a cow. My friends had some meat/roast vegetable combination and they said it wasn’t as good as The Abbey’s old roast dinners, and were quite a bit more expensive too.

    Please bring back your old menu!

  • David Earl

    This pedantic article tells us all why eating a rare burger is potentially dangerous. According to the FSA we’re risking a real chance of contamination each time we consume one. Bonus points for wading through the thread comments after that could rival a ‘Sun’ article for raging vitroil.

    • Kentishtowner

      Hi David
      Thanks for the link. Alas there still doesn’t seem to be a straightforward answer – even after reading the article and comments – although there do seem to be risks attached to eating pink burgers… I guess it’s just about personal taste in the end as I imagine the contamination risks must be small, otherwise places like Honest couldn’t legally write ‘all burgers served medium rare’ on their menu.

  • Andy F

    Just had the Sunday roast and thought it was pretty disappointing. The beef, although served rare as requested, was so tough as to almost inedible. The bar staff didn’t even comment when they took the plates that most of the meat was still remaining. With so many other options in the area at similar prices I think they need to up their game a little.

  • KentishTownKate

    I am so surprised to read these negative comments about the new menu at the Abbey. The food used to be pretty bad – tasteless meat, undercooked veg – all pretty uninspiring. I have eaten here a few times since Farmer Tom has been in residence and have been hugely impressed. Yes, if you are veggie it’s probably not the right place for you, but if you are a meat lover, and a bit of a foodie the new menu at the Abbey will be right up your street. Farmer Tom came out to speak to me and my date last time I was in and happily chatted to us about his meat and what he’s trying to achieve. He does indeed drive back and forth to Herefordshire every wee! He’s a lovely chap striving to make a difference – I think his angle is refreshing and should be welcomed to the area. Go Farmer Tom! 🙂

  • The Dean of NW5

    I, unlike KentishTown Kate, am not surprised to hear negative comments about a new food venture. All ventures take time to settle. If Farmer Tom’s is missing a beat in the New Year then something clearly is a miss and like an ailing sheep it might need to be put down. As for whether he is a farmer or not, then whoever owns the farm in the picture above should be very worried that some guy with crazy hair is cuddling their sheep.
    I went with my boyfriend and friend for a drink. The black board outside advertises ‘Farmer Tom’ but to no effect. ‘Who is Farmer Tom anyway’ my friend said, ‘does he have a TV series or a book?’ It’s all a bit ambiguous. Dishes and their prices would be far more effective written on it. It was the menu on the tables that grabbed our attention. Pictures of animals and their various ‘bits’. I thought it was a brilliant idea, as did my friend, whereas my boyfriend thought it looked childish. Hey ho, people dis-agreeing is not headline news. We decided to eat, having not previously intended to do so. My friend, a veggie, wasn’t put out that there was very little veggie choice. She muttered something about Farmer Tom not breaking the law. She went for a rarebit with fried egg (a buck rarebit if anyone cares), I went for a sirloin steak and my boyfriend went for a salt beef and ox heart burger. Nothing childish about that.
    The bar area is worn and but has character, the staff are as efficient as pub staff would be, but could probably care a bit more about, well, everything. There are little touches that could take this place further. The table number consisting of a wooden spoon in a pint glass is crass and the condiments are all knocking around in a wooden box. They include tabasco and Worcester sauce. Who puts tabasco on their food and don’t you usually cook with Worcester sauce? Very little thought has gone into this department. The whole place could be cleaner too.
    The food arrived and first impression was that it was a lot for the money. My steak was huge and I was a bit daunted.
    I managed to nail some of my friends buck before she did. Now here’s the thing. It was outstanding, probably even better if you were hungover, which I suspect most of the Abbey customers usually are. We all agreed about it’s status. It was thumbs up pub food. As simple as that. After I had issued my steak with it’s own postcode I dug in. Hold. The. Phone. Simply the best steak I’ve had for a long time, maybe forever, but I can only think back a year or so. I had forgotten to request after its cooking and so I suppose it had come medium by default. It could have come by train for all I cared. I asked how the burger was, but lover-boy was just staring gently into the near distance with a smile.
    The food was outstanding, rustic, mothers-kitchen grub. We later found out that there used to be desserts, but they never sold and so have been discontinued though would come back through demand. Fair enough. Farmer Tom has to watch his penny’s (if he is a farmer, that is). There is something very different about this kitchen and its approach. It’s like popping in to see Ma Larkin. A table next to ours were clearly Tom’s friends as he just brought them ‘stuff’. Grilled free-range pork, crispy lamb strips, a bubbling cottage pie…. yes I have big ears. They could not have been happier. Maybe this is the best way to eat here? Go to the kitchen door and demand that the chef gives you a good seeing to.
    Well, I am going back and that is exactly what I am going to do. I am going to demand to be thrashed by good food.

  • Viki

    Not sure why there’s so many complaints – it is what it is, a meat-based menu. I’ve eaten here a couple of times since Farmer Tom came and it’s been outstanding every time. Yes, there may not be a huge selection, but it changes all the time, which is much more important to me – I work nearby so would rather get the chance to try something different each time we come in and have a small selection knowing it will be cooked really well, rather than go say Assembly House for a wide range of average food. Plus, you get a huge portion for your money.

  • northern lass

    I ate at the Abbey recently for an event in the cosy back room. It was my first time at the pub and I was very impressed with the spread laid on by Farmer Tom. Full-on Sunday roast lamb, yorkshires, (essential for a northern lass), veg and gravy. The lamb was melt in the mouth scrumptious! I don’t think there is anything wrong with a simple menu that offers tasty food. Vegetarians know what they are getting into when they arrive, there is no false advertising. Farmer Tom seems to be trying out a few dishes to gauge what people like and I’m sure will respond to opinion. I will definitely return to try more dishes and look forward to a dessert menu evolving!

  • Local gal

    The food is amazing! Really simple good meat. I love that Farmer Tom has connections to the source of the food. I had a chat to him and really like what he’s doing. Of course, since it’s a meat kitchen, it’s not going to have thousands of veggie dishes (you have veggie restaurants for that) but my friend did have the veggie option and it was excellent. Great food. Loved it, as did my whole party. Big love for the new kid in town

  • Julie

    We found our lunch at The Abbey Tavern to be disappointing and unimaginative. The brioche bun and chips were good – but hardly anything to write home about. The burger was very large, but it was overcooked – not juicy at all – and ordinary. We also had a ‘Roast Beef Bun with Horseradish’, only it was not served with horseradish but with English mustard. The beef itself was cold (very cold – not room temp) and this and lack of seasoning made it quite tasteless. It may have been good meat, but because of the treatment in the kitchen, it was hard to tell. We were served Hellmann’s Light Mayo as one of the side sauces. If you are going to serve a shop-bought mayo, please at least get nicer stuff – without all the chemicals needed to make it taste ‘good’ without the fat. Bog-standard pub food. Average prices. Disinterested staff. Freezing cold in the pub. I don’t mind a small menu selection if the aim is ‘farm to table’, but if the food and overall experience is not good, then what of it?

  • Ruth.B

    I too was very disappointed with my meal last night, a Wednesday, and quiet! Ordered the Hereford steak sandwich which was gristly and chewy and inedible, chips were soggy, yuk!!. Not worth the £10!! As this is the 2nd bad meal I have had where you give a glowing review! I was wondering if you go in incognito or announce your selves as the reviewers of the Kentish Towner and obviously get the best of everything including service! If this is the case, do you not think that this makes your reviews unreliable, and your site is predominantly reviews of eateries and bars.

    • Kentishtowner

      Hi Ruth, it’s worth bearing in mind that the review you are commenting on was written nearly a year ago. We can’t guarantee what the food is like now (or ever). Best to take the reviews as guidelines only; we’ll promise to update them as often as we have the resources to. Also worth pointing out is that we publish daily, and carry a food review once a week – on a Friday. Check out the home page now for stories on all sorts of topics, from art to architecture and history.