Confession: I don’t make the excursion over to the Lord Palmerston – NW5’s loftiest pub – much any more.
Rewind 15 years, however, and I was there every other night. The interior back then was early noughties minimal – all school desks and hard wooden chairs – and the cooking was, for its time, excellent. It was one of the reasons, in fact, that I nearly moved to Tufnell Park (Huddleston Road, if you will).
And then I stopped going. Maybe it was because I ended up living nearer Gospel Oak, with a slew of drinking options handier than the Lord P. But visits over the years have also become more irregular because rival boozers like the Southampton Arms or The Junction are just, well, more fun. Aren’t they?
But we were impressed when we popped back, spur-of-the-moment, recently. It was a mild evening, so we grabbed a table outside on the road (its back garden always feels less exciting), a decently intoxicated crowd chattering all around us.
We set ourselves a challenge. Just one plate of food each: no sides, no starters. The task? To see if a £15 main was much cop in arguably the smartest bit of NW5 nowadays.The menu was encouraging: lamb chops with harissa sounded appetising, as did a slightly too wintry chicken and chorizo pie.
We allowed ourselves the luxury of ordering bread; it was devoured oven-warm, slathered in butter. Being a balmy September night, we opted for mains that exuded late-summer holiday vibes.
A plate of marinated octopus, with crayfish, samphire, soft saffron potatoes and caperberries was suitably Mediterranean, our only complaint being that, for £15.50, the chef had scrimped on the meaty tentacles somewhat. It was really just a crayfish salad, but at least its briny, lemony and mildly spicy flavours were balanced.
The other main, however, was more notable. Grilled tuna steak perched lusciously pink on crushed herby potatoes, asparagus (where was that grown at this time of year?) and a creamy lime hollandaise. The better value of the two, it also hovered at the acceptable £15 mark.And not only was the people-watching lively up and down the hill, but the Tuscan waiter was especially engaging as he imparted observations on London life.
With just the one adequately-sized main each (and bread) the bill clocked in at about £25 a head, sharing a bottle of house Sangiovese (there’s a range of ales and craft beers on tap too, both local and further afield).
The real challenge for the Palmerston, of course, will be when the new-look Dartmouth Arms reopens later this year.