Four years ago this summer, a gang of three experienced industry mates took over a pub that many thought was doomed to become flats. The Torriano’s reputation was mighty in Kentish Town, and yet the years-long fight against developers had been more relentless than anywhere else.
Reborn as craft beer bar (and downstairs arts venue) the Rose & Crown in July 2014, it quickly re-established itself as one of the postcode’s most affable watering holes, the definition of the word neighbourhood hangout, where you’re almost certain to linger, should you pop in for a quick pint after work.
New owners Ben, Theo and Chris even built a kitchen in the minuscule sunken garden, which has since entertained a giddy line-up of streetfood pop-ups.
Their new boozer, which namechecks the Monty Python song, is similar-yet-different. Occupying a pub that was formerly called Hopsmiths, it’s a little further north, nestled up by Crouch Hill station on Stroud Green Road. It’s a stretch now packed with quality food and drink options, such as Max’s Sandwich Shop and Traiteur – and it’s just a five-minute hop from Gospel Oak on the Overground.
As with the K-Town flagship, it’s armed with a squad of craft beers and ales – 30 rotating taps to be precise, including a tasty Kernel Pale Ale, as well as the likes of Wiper & True, Magic Rock and Beavertown.
The difference? A better equipped kitchen, allowing a higher quality of food offer. And they’ve hired Beth De Leon, a talented chef whose career I’ve loosely followed around east and north London, from the Spurstowe in Hackney to the Lord Palmerston in Tufnell Park, before a longer stint heading up the kitchen at the relaunched Bull & Gate.
Its loss is very definitely the Brave Sir Robin’s gain: Beth’s new project, with head chef Krystian Laskowski, is christened Kjöt and Eldur (‘meat and fire’ in Icelandic), and embraces Scandinavian influences, products, curing and cooking processes.
Smoked chicken croquettes (£5.50)
An essential small plate for poultry-lovers. Delicately soft inside, with an easygoing breadcrumb coating, they’re as satisfyingly savoury as a full-on Sunday lunch. A pot of roast chicken mayo adds a further hit of umami: made from skins roasted with thyme and rosemary, they’re then powdered and added to the home-made mayo base. You’ll want another round.
Crispy baby Squid (£5.50, see main pic)
It’s the charcoal-coloured aioli that grabs us instantly, thereby lifting that old pub chestnut, calamari, to a higher level. Sure, the batter’s crisp, the fish tenderized – overnight, in a mix of egg whites and smoked paprika – but it’s a dunk into the muted grey pot that gets us hooked. The secret? It’s made from cuttlefish ink, using an aioli base and house-smoked garlic.
Smoked salmon on sourdough (£6.25)
Don’t overlook this classic Nordic starter, smoked on red alder wood in-house; all the fish, Beth tells us later by email, is from a supplier delivering only Norwegian- and Icelandic-caught varieties. The flesh is a life-affirming orange, thick cut – no vacuum-packed slivers here – and piled on house-cultured sourdough (spongy and chewy, yet light-as-air). There’s dill, and a tangle of pickled beetroot, radish, carrot and onion, with sour cream spooned over for extra luxury.
Aged Fillet steak (£16)
The team brine and cure their meat for at least 24 hours, using bay, garlic, dill, and thyme; it’s then cold-smoked over oak in the compact smoker, before being finished on the grill to order. This, of course, lends a subtle flavour while all-importantly keeping it super-tender. Our fillet is a deep glistening ruby-red, sliced thinly for maximum melt-in-the-mouth appeal, straddling triple-cooked potatoes, crispy yet fluffy inside. A rich bone marrow gravy ups the meaty thwack, should you need it, while buttered greens and whorls of root vegetable puree chuck in vitamins and sunshine. For an expensive cut, the price tag is keen.
Salted dark chocolate tart (£6)
On our visit this was the only dessert listed. Exactly the right side of bittersweet for our palates, the secret ingredient is Icelandic lava salt, plus high quality 73% cocoa dark chocolate. The only added sweetness is in the oat biscuit base, baked and crushed with unsalted butter. The plate comes with crumbled pistachio praline, and a big scoop of honeycomb ice cream. The result is thoroughly grown-up: like the rest of the meal, and the Brave Sir Robin itself, in fact.