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.
Words: Stephen Emms