One of the best new – OK, revamped – boozers we’ve chanced upon this year is actually the Duke of Hamilton up near Hampstead Heath.
It was always a lovely spot – just off the main drag – and yet it’s now been restored by brothers Ben and Ed Robson and their pal Adam Gostyn (all former managers of nearby Camden Brewery gastropub The Horseshoe).
Step inside and it’s immediately clear that they’ve reinstated, uncovered and scrubbed up many of its historic features, including the central Victorian bar. Well, it does date back to 1721, after all. And, fact fans, it was once a favourite of Hollywood ledges Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. Perhaps even all at the same time.
We managed to grab the last free table in the window on an extremely packed Friday night (there was a sell-out jazz act downstairs). The menu, at first glance, offers no surprises, focusing on seasonal British, with chalked-up specials and a list of regulars.
Being in a steak-and-chips kind of mood, it was a delight then to be served a really fine flat iron: chargrilled medium-rare, its exterior caramelised, the meat rosy within, juices rich in umami. With skinny fries plus a rocket and parmesan salad, at £17.50 it didn’t feel like a rip-off at all, especially for Hampstead. And a bottle of house red was gluggable, too.In fact, it was all so enjoyable that we returned on a recent warm bank holiday to find that the pub couldn’t be more different from its Friday night incarnation. Unlike near NW3 neighbours such as The Wells – all heaving with pleasure-seekers – it was empty inside, with just a handful of locals on the pavement terrace, mostly reading the papers, or enjoying a quiet drink. Is it that rare thing, we wondered, a real neighbourhood Hampstead pub?
This time round we delved into the small plates and more foodie-sounding mains – and again they excelled, from a Korean-style pork belly with kimchi, its butter-soft meat paired with fiery crunch, to a citrusy walnut salad and some just-opaque hake, its skin seared expertly crisp. Even a vegetarian risotto had savoury depth. And it was all served on the roadside terrace, without fuss or ceremony.
We concluded that this one really is well worth the hike up the hill. And if it hits the high twenties this month, you’ll really feel like you’ve earned that cold beer.