On the night we visited, the cavernous two-floored venue was at its multi-tasking best: BYO vinyl party upstairs, beer tasting from East London Brewery by the roaring fire, and hundreds of post-work drinkers cramming the bar areas, with every table taken for dinner.
The new menu was a week in – and it seemed everyone was eager to try the latest offer from head chef Tom Humphreys, who’s been at Michelin-rated joints like Hand in Flowers and Petrus but, most recently, served time as Texas Joe’s right hand man.
We (only just) managed to find a table, surrounded by a gaggle of French mums all necking fishbowls of the house white and chattering excitedly. In fact, the racket all around was almost deafening.
Just as well the new food concept is so simple to grasp: there’s a mix of small plates (tempura broccoli), useful things to share (charcuterie), non-cliched vegetarian options (raw veg pasta) and full-on pub classics (burgers, lamb neck stew, steak and chips). It’s a refreshing change after their roll call of streetfood traders, from Lucky Chip to the Bell & Brisket.
Tempura broccoli made a fun starter to share, although the crispy brassica alone felt a little naked. A dip – perhaps something with anchovy, or parmesan – would have really made it sing.
Many of the dishes are light, and healthier than anything served up by the Grafton in previous years. A beautiful plate of ethically hand-dived sweet scallops were rich with bone marrow and the musky earthiness of cauliflower. And the wonderfully-named Oh My Cod was better still: lentils and buttery kale hosted a thick wedge of fish cooked just opaque, its crispy skin packed with flavour.
Best of all (if less healthy)? A meaty slow-braised beef rib, perched on carrot puree, pictured above. Given a deeper, aniseed twang from star anise, and textural interest from raw heritage carrot scrapings, this was the comfort dish to return for.
Which is what we did two days later. Except, on a bleakly chilly Saturday lunchtime, we were wowed by the well-priced steak and chips. The kitchen now specialises in fashionable cheaper cuts, including the tri-tip, for many years the staple cut ground down into burgers. On this visit the chef was serving a denver: tender and full of beefy flavour, it’s sliced from the chuck (the part often used for braising steak), and served medium rare.
We opted for a 9oz, just £10 with watercress, house butter and chips: while less tender – of course – than more expensive cuts, it’s still the best-value offer of its kind in north London, or perhaps even the capital itself.
In fact, it was almost too big, so a 7oz cut (a snip at £8) could be a better choice for those with normal appetites. And while we didn’t try the burger, the visiting sister-in-law – who rarely raves about food, it should be added – gushed that it was the best she’d ever had. High praise indeed.
So will this be the concept to last the distance at the ever-popular Prince of Wales boozer? We sure hope so.