It’s always good to hear that a pub is reverting to its original name; and so we were pleased that often eerily quiet ‘Steele’s Village’ destination The Hill was being relaunched as The Load of Hay Tavern.
While the rather handsome current building dates back to 1864, few readers will know that the name was established by 1721 – and that prior to that it was called the Cart and Horses.
Behind this latest revamp is a group who own some trad London venues like the Pride of Paddington, and the famous Cork and Bottle in Leicester Square.But with this opening they’ve gone off on a (too?) contemporary tip: the historic interior has been reinvented with leather booths, pendant lighting, communal seats and a bright, all-day brasserie vibe aimed, presumably, at the yummy mummy brigade.
The drinks list – ten draught taps from London and beyond, artisan gins and decent wine – is decent. But the food disappointed on our visit. The menu reads standard-issue gastropub: gravadlax, duck liver pate, crispy pork belly and so on.Yet a starter of crab cakes, garnished with wilting lamb’s lettuce, was perfunctory, the one-note taste of potato rendering the fishy edge almost indeterminable (we had to check the menu again to remind us what we’d ordered).
Mains were average, too: an appealing sounding smoked trout with crayfish salad had the appearance and flavours of a supermarket ready meal tipped onto a plate, with barely a dressing to lift it, the addition of parmesan unnecessarily jarring.Beer-battered hake was the best thing we ate – the flesh succulent, the batter light and crisp – but it too was let down, firstly by the kind of chips you don’t see very often in London: flat, not-quite chunky, not-quite skinny.
Worse still were the “minted peas”, bullets that proved chewy and hard. We brought this up with the waiting staff, who were polite, friendly and efficient, but the response from the kitchen was that they had been “microwaved too long”. Ouch.
They knocked a tenner off the bill – but was it enough to make us return to eat? Not sure: it felt like a tourist-trap meal out, rather than a new neighbourhood discovery.
Still, the spacious garden still makes a lovely spot for a pint.