Saturday, 1 August 2009

Bull and Last

On a beautiful spring evening four of us were keen to try out what sounded like another good local gastropub, delightfully situated on Hampstead Heath. The pub changed hands last year and was taken over by Etive Pubs who also own the Prince of Wales in Putney. What’s encouraging from the start is that there is a blackboard above the bar listing some interesting food suppliers that include Mary Holbrook (cheese, British Lop pigs and kid), Rushbury House Farm in Gloucestershire for beef and Colchester Oyster fishery in East Mersea. It also raises expectations.

As it was a weekday, we were seated at a table in the main part of the bar (busy and noisy). Apparently they don’t use the upstairs dining room until the weekends – something I’ll bear in mind for next time as I take a while to adapt to noisy environments. The service was friendly and attentive. For starters the others ordered potted mackerel, crab toast, celeriac and wild garlic soup and I had the homemade charcuterie board. It was difficult to fault any of this. The servings are generous – admittedly mine was the priciest at £10, but it was shared around the table and would be ideal for two. The potted mackerel was keenly balanced between the oily richness of the fish and refreshing lemon, pickled beetroot provide further lift. The modestly named crab toast was, in fact, a slice of sourdough toast topped with a luxurious pile of dressed crab. Very decadent. The deliciously seasonal soup was served with mace butter and hazelnuts and my charcuterie included delicacies such as duck proscuitto and a very tasty cube of deep-fried lamb breast, enlivened by side portion of tangy pickles. To accompany this lot, we selected a bottle of Godello from Galicia in Spain – sufficiently clean, fresh and aromatic, yet with some creamy richness and weight. It worked very well.

Our main courses were skate with purple sprouting broccoli, almonds, shrimps, brown butter and capers; beer battered haddock with pea puree, chips (fabulous big wedges, triple fried) and tartare sauce; hare cannelloni with oakleaf, capers, raddichio and hazelnut salad and English rose veal, beef ragu, creamed spinach and crispy potatoes. And we had moved on to a versatile bottle of ripe, juicy Vin de Pays du Gard Syrah-Grenache. We were all very impressed and felt that, compared with other local hostelries, they were going the extra mile, serving food that was clearly a step up from, for example, The Junction – and this is no criticism of them. The prices are all a couple of pounds or so higher at The Bull and Last and justifiably so. For the sake of research, although we didn’t need it, to finish the meal, we shared a couple of portions of home-made Ferrero Rocher ice-cream which, despite sounding a bit pikey, was gorgeous!

The wine list is clearly laid out and includes some smart looking ciders as well as keenly selected varied wines, most of which under £30 a bottle. Furthermore, several wines are available by the glass or 375ml carafe. There are also several sweet wines and ports by the glass and, being a very decent pub, a great range of beers. My only gripe was that, given the tasty range of bar snacks and olives on offer, no sherries are served.

Our bill came to about £40 per head without service, but you could be much more restrained than we were! The informal nature of the place also means that you could just come in for a drink and some nibbles (eg the amazing chips) – lots of options. We had a super evening and will definitely return. Apparently, they will also be offering picnic hampers for the Heath.
(Visited April 2009)

168 Highgate Road, London NW5 1QS; tel 020 7267 3641

Square Meal
Bull & Last on Urbanspoon

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