I hold my hands up. I disliked the revamped Dartmouth Arms when I first walked in on relaunch night a few months ago.
What have they done, was the cry, seemingly all around us, in muted whispers and amidst polite smiles. “At least it’s reopened,” was the necessary refrain, “at least it’s still a pub and not flats.”
Which is absolutely correct. But the former watering hole, with its circular Victorian bar dominating the ground floor, and its dark-panelled walls, was a low-key north London institution. How could the new owners really have ripped everything out in favour of a characterless long bar, a square or two of carpet, and a rather sterile back room (which, even in the good old days, was always a bit underused)?
But then the truth emerged: the pub was apparently left a shell by its previous landlords, with most features sold or destroyed. Thus the new interior had to be rebuilt from scratch – on a budget – meaning it was always going to be functional rather than ornate.
Its rebirth is thanks anyway to one Andy Bird, an established pub and bar operator, most respected for saving community pub the Chesham Arms in Hackney. And while the refurb was done on a comparative shoestring, over the last six months since opening, Bird and his team have really worked on the atmosphere to make the space feel more lived-in and welcoming.
There’s nothing contemporary about the décor, but nonetheless, every time we pop in, it’s less spartan and a bit more cosy: there are dim globe pendants, worn rugs, gilt-edged 1940s-style mirrors, and side lights more suited to the dining car of the Orient Express.
There’s also a vast chandelier, and bohemian palm fronds poking up alongside the upright piano, itself laden with paperbacks and board games. Heck, . A minor point? Perhaps they could lose some of the furniture in the crowded back room.
Still, it’s nearly packed on a steely grey Tuesday evening, with service that’s friendly and easy-going. The modestly priced menu (with nothing more than £16.50) comprises half a dozen small plates and mains, the emphasis on meat and vegetarian, with just one fish dish in evidence. If you like credentials, you’ll be pleased to hear that new head chef Adam Hardiman was trained classically, with stints at St. John’s, The Princess of Shoreditch, and with Jamie Oliver.
Thirsty? There are six taps of real ale and cider, as well as a further six on keg, and a good range of local breweries (Hammerton, Beavertown and so on). The wine list too is short, and to the point: of three reds, we chose a versatile house blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre, which, it turns out, suits the hearty autumnal nature of our meal admirably.
35 York Rise NW5, open daily 4:30-11pm (weekends from midday). Starters from £4, mains from £9, desserts from £4.50. More here.