It’s the ultimate cultural exchange – Spaniards in London or Brits on the Costa De Sol.
And if you want to try food that gallops across Europe from here to Madrid, this former Wetherspoon boozer high up on the hill in Highgate – next to newcomer Ostuni, in fact – is the place. It recently reopened after a refurb courtesy of Urban Pubs and Bars, who run the Old Ship in Hackney.
Now the dining room is grand, there are (inevitably) craft beers, good wines, a restored garden – and, under the watchful eye of head chef, Chris Payne, fresh British plates with a decidedly Spanish edge.
Think seafood paella, hake, clams and peas, rabbit with ceps. One word of warning: portions err on the large side – this is gastropub, rather than tapas bar, territory. A starter of potted rabbit comes as a sizeable stew rather than rillettes, served with two outsize pieces of sourdough to mop up the juices. Sobrasada, the cured raw sausage from the Balearic Islands, is served in spreadable slices – with more sourdough.
Mains are hearty – but fun: a fideuà is a seafood dish originally from the coast of Valencia, similar to paella, yet made with pasta noodles instead of rice. Here it kicks with the spicy heat of chorizo, softened by big plump mussels, clams and a rich stock.Best of all on our visit was Iberian Secreto, the prized meat from between the shoulder blade and the loin of Iberian pigs, who are fed on acorns for the last three months of their lives (so they become what the Spanish call “a walking olive”, as the percentage of oleic acid rises to near the levels of olive oil).
The reason the meat tastes so good is that the surface is marbled with fat, and cooked over a hot griddle so it melts to give a crispy crust, while the flesh inside stays juicy. It’s always served pink (here just slightly over, for my palate) but the flavour is still excellent, helped along by roasted peppers, onions and chunky chimichurri mayo to accompany the chips.
Not hungry? There’s still the renowned theatre upstairs – a little like Kentish Town’s Lion And Unicorn, in fact – making the pub busy and magnetic even early and mid-week. And for lazy September holiday-in-Spain vibes, try the chilled (red) Tragolargo, made from Mourvedre, a masterful match for our blushing pork.