Bar Review: The Elephant’s Head, Camden

The Elephant’s Head – Victorian Camden

The Elephant’s Head pub is bang in the middle of  Camden Town, a simulacrum of whatever it used to be or thought it was. This one-time home of John Lennon, Charles Dickens and Sir Ambrose Fleming, saw a heroin-chic renascence in the early naughties. The skinny-limbed antics of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty preceded Noel Fielding and Russell Brand entertaining audiences by competing to have the silliest hair. Today, Camden’s biggest export is Dappy from N-Dubz.

Others disagree, of course. Alex Proud at The Telegraph is a fan: “Camden was cool in 1994 (and even 1984) and it’s still cool in 2014. It has, dare I say it, sustainable coolness. True, at no point in time will be it be as achingly “now” as a speakeasy in a repurposed public loo in Camberwell selling dirty cocktails in jam jars, but that’s the point”.

For me, Camden falls over itself screaming how alternative it is while trying as hard as possible not to care, as carefully as possible. Camden is a hangout for biker gangs without motorbikes, the worst cocaine in Europe, and enjoys a working-class brashness despite one bedroom flats renting at £3,000 a month.

I’m ranting, because I really wanted to like The Elephant’s Head pub. It’s a scruffy, characterful pub full of scruffy characters, the kind that makes the past-time of London boozing a uniquely British pleasure. I love dark Victorian London Pubs; I like to imagine Jack the Ripper sitting at the bar, nursing a pint of mild, fiddling with a Soduku. The Elephant’s Head dates to 1832, being once part of the famous Camden Town Brewery, producers of ‘Elephant Ale’ in the 1800’s. Feeling like Julian Barrat in Nathan Barley, I sought refuge in something genuine – something with more purpose and age than me – away from the surrounding nonsense. The classic checkered floor, dark wooden bar and low ceilings filled me with hope.

The pub was teaming with leather clad punters, holding what I assumed was a piercing convention. The standard issue Full English and a pint of bitter both did the job and weren’t unreasonably priced, given the fiscal hell-hole that is Zone 1. Unfortunately, members of The Elephant’s Head staff were the sourest, patronising and most abrasive as I’ve come across.

The Elephant’s Head Pub
Review Summary

Atmosphere 6  Cost 6  Quality 5  Service 2

Elephants Head Camden Pub Review
Camden Street Artist (Of Sorts)

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Head Pub Camden

Restaurant Review: The Coach, Marlow

The Coach – No Return (Meal) Ticket

I wanted to love The Coach Marlow (formely The Coach and Horses). Mainly as I love Tom Kerridge aka the happiest man on the plant (close second, Kriss Akabusi). This lovely looking gastropub helpfully only takes walk-ins, acting as a spill-over sight for it’s even higher-end sister site The Hand & Flowers down the road, where there is a year long waiting list for their Michelin star Sunday roasts. I couldn’t wait a year and I’m too poor, so The Coach Marlow it was.

Only visit The Coach Marlow if you: can drop any preconceptions, foolishly appreciate tapas, are minted and not hungry. I am none of the above, thus left discontented. I love Mr Kerridge with his amicable West Country patois and proper pub-grub philosophy; disappointingly, The Coach Marlow ignores it.

Controversial opinion – tapas is pointless – a Mediterranean euphemism for expensive inefficiency. Only madmen want dishes to arrive schizophrenically.  The standard excuse is: “To try bits of everything!”. Which is nonsense because portions are so small, only cold crumbs remain once shared. Order your preferences then trade bits later damn it. In any other context, new cutlery is provided and smaller courses sensibly arrive first – nobody thinks anything of it. Tapas means culinary human rights are waived in favour of a needless continental concept.

Rant over (almost). Sitting at The Coach Marlow bar provides stimulating views of the industrious open kitchen; an ideal first date rendezvous, providing distractions from potential awkward silences. The hard-working young kitchen team, went about their business in a focused manner. Unfortunately, everyone else was cramped together. At least I was lucky enough to get a table, or so I thought. Modern televisions were strategically placed, all the fixtures and fittings were handsomely fitted, and the lighting was pleasingly low. 

Everything on The Coach Marlow’s menu sounded delicious. I was expecting a real treat here. The format was oddly split between ‘Meat’ and ‘No Meat’, yet meat’s in both sections:  a practical joke, quirkiness or a genuine mistake, I know not. Furthermore, the descriptions didn’t hint at the wildly varying portions, making things unnecessarily fiddly. Was this a pub or some kind of puzzle…

Everything looked more than appetising, the food I mean, not the staff, I’m not that weird. Anyway, dishes were creatively arranged and housed in beautiful, earthy crockery. You felt that touch of quality. The Coach Marlow produced initially interesting dishes, which later left one puzzled and unsatisfied, rather than intrigued and impressed. The Whisky & Rye Pudding was cold rather than warm – evidently an error of judgement for any winter pudding. The Venison Chilli had the kick of a paraplegic and served grittily under-cooked. A pricey piece of Lamb carried a shameful amount of flaccid fat. The Pigs Head was a delicate croquette rather than something intimidating. This was all lamentable, as the depth of flavour across all dishes was impressive.

The Triple Cooked Chips & Béarnaise were memorable – undisputed world champion pieces of potato. However, as chips were the highlight, The Coach Marlow left me dissatisfied.

The Coach Review Summary

Atmosphere 9  Cost 2  Quality 6  Service 6

The Coach Marlow Restaurant Review
The gigantic pigs head
The Coach Marlow Restaurant Review
Probably the best chips in the world
The Coach Marlow Restaurant Review
Cold whisky pudding

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Restaurant Review: The Aspinall Arms, Near Clitheroe

The Aspinall Arms – Picturesque Posh Pub Grub

The River Ribble stretches around the encircled green pastures, while a medieval church older than Jesus looks over this idylically located gastro-pub. Aided by its pretty front facade, The Aspinall Arms Clitheroe provides real character. The interior of The Aspinall Arms was equally charming, with muted tones and pleasing attention to detail. I enjoyed leafing through the eclectic book collection, soaking in the quaint atmosphere, feeling quite the country gent.

Service was excellent by an approachable Lancashire Lass from start to finish. Although the food arrived sluggishly, which was pre-emptively apologised for. Aside from a lack of welcome and immediate direction upon arrival, The Aspinall Arms Clitheroe service was faultless.

The Aspinall Arms Clitheroe Menu all sounded tempting, although was a frenetic mixture of British gastro-pub stuff overly punctuated with a plethora influences. Despite The Aspinall Arms Clitheroe quintessential British appearance, it’s foreign muck Charcuterie Board was its highlight. I found seeing Rabbit & Prune Suet Pudding and Fragrant Thai Chicken salad on the same menu slightly disconcerting. I had falsely high expectations for the Smoked Haddock & Salmon Fishcakes, which were well formed and seasoned but one dimensional and lacking in smoke. The Rump Steak was mouth watering medium rare, fiercely seared and tasted beautifully beefy. The obligatory glass of Malbec made an appearance, which performed its function competently. Speaking of alcohol, The Aspinall Arms Clitheroe had a freakishly large display of whiskies which was marvellous to ogle.

The Aspinall Arms Clitheroe wasn’t the cheapest place in the world, but the charming surroundings and fresh ingredients justified its not unreasonable price. It’s a pub unlikely to provide everyday eats but one likely to return to. For the ten evenings a year when the weather permits Al Fresco dining, The Aspinall Arms Clitheroe would be delightful. For a post-church, Sunday wee dram – nowhere could be better.

The Aspinall Arms
Review Summary

Atmosphere 9  Cost 6  Quality 7  Service 8

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Near Clitheroe