Bar Review: The Elephant’s Head, Camden

The Elephant’s Head – Victorian Camden

Camden Town, the 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. 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.

The Elephant’s Head was 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 Review Summary

Atmosphere 6/10    Cost 6/10    Quality 5/10    Service 1/10

Elephants Head Camden Pub Review

Camden Street Artist (Of Sorts)

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Restaurant Review: The Coach, Marlow

The Coach – Not Buying A Return (Meal) Ticket

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.

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. Unfortunately, everyone else is cramped together.

Everything on The Coach Marlow’s menu sounded delicious. 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.

Everything looked more than appetising; dishes were creatively arranged and housed in beautiful, earthy crockery. The Coach Marlow produced initially interesting dishes, which later left one puzzled and unsatisfied. 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 8/10    Cost 2/10    Quality 6/10    Service 6/10

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, 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 9/10    Cost 6/10    Quality 7/10    Service 8/10

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Restaurant Review: The White Bull, Preston

Good Pub Grub In Alston

The White Bull Alston was well stocked with pleasant, rosy-cheeked staff; friendly in that uniquely rustic manner. One amicably escorted me a pleasingly thick wooden table with shiny cutlery, set in a tasteful aubergine dining room. The perimeter was lined with multi-coloured wine bottles, reminiscent of undergraduates (and alcoholics), proudly paraded bottles on window ledges, like the Last of the Summer Wine gang lived there ironically with The Young Ones.

I opted for The White Bull Alston’s thrifty Set Menu, providing two courses for a very reasonable £10.95. The options were unsurprisingly severely restricted from an otherwise extensive menu; in London, £10.95 gets you a pint and packet of McCoy’s – I was grateful regardless. The White Bull Alston’s menu focused on British cuisine, being mostly very safe but perfectly appetising. The extensive wine list wasn’t extortionate, but I went down the real ale avenue of refreshment anyway.

To start, the curious ‘Curried Parsnip and Banana Soup’, promptly arrived with a hunk of wholemeal bread on steroids, with a slab of salty butter. Unless insane, you won’t often eat parsnips and bananas; but, you should. The piping hot murky soup looked like harbouring pond life; fortunately, it was heartily seasoned, and the earthy and exotic balance of flavours were well executed. I became conscious of eating tropical baby food; however, apparently variety is the spice of life, and the steaming soup stirred the senses that winter evening.

For mains, I got ideas above my station and ordered a bowl of mussels in parsley and cream sauce. A generously sized bowl arrived without delay; although, I was forced to confiscate an adjacent table’s spoon. The mussels were fresh, having the good grace to arrive akimbo; but, cried out for some carbohydrate-based life partner. Mercifully, I covertly stole my partner’s chips without regret, allowed me to consume the delicious, otherwise wasted, buttery sauce.

 Give it a try.

The White Bull Review Summary

Atmosphere 7/10    Cost 10/10    Quality 7/10    Service 8/10

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