An almost sunny Saturday…
A lovely gastro-pub just around the corner… What else could be better?
The Drapers’ Arms was a very cosy-looking pub. Airy and spacious dining rooms and pub, annexed to its private outdoor “garden” area. Its wooden floor that creaked a little, with the wooden chairs and tables accentuating the link to tranquility and nature. As I walked in, I loved the place. LOVED IT! I felt I wanted to sink into one of those chairs, watch the neighbours mingle and let my weariness drain away. The food – I’d heard the peeps behind this came from St John – was the expectation of the day. Even so, I forgot to think about it. The setting had somewhat outdone everything.. everything.
That’s probably because we were the first diners in.
Five or ten minutes later, our bread rustically served on a wooden board arrived with a family of screaming toddlers. Perhaps, having been in WC for so many years, I romanticised and mistook the suburban scene as that of chaos-free neighbourliness and tranquility.
Well, indeed, it was not. Not at the Drapers’ Arms.
The bread was good. I especially liked the one with grains. The crying kids were acrimoniously loud. The parents were totally dominated by them. What was it like to be listening to that noise all day, all week, all month, all year long, until they grew up? I tried my best and focused on the menu. Here it changed twice a day. Great British Menu. There were potted pork, beef and ale pie and ale cake. Nothing too daring. There was no more than two dishes that popped out from each section. Basically, they served comfort food for those not wishing to slave themselves cooking so they could spend more hours on making babies.
I resorted to this British take on a risotto. Originally, it was a main course but I asked if I could have my portion reduced to a starter. Et, voila. My Pearl Barley and Butternut Squash Risotto with Wild Garlic, Girolles and Berkswell Cheese. The execution was rustic and the “risotto” was slightly soupy. Instead of puree, I had really chunky, but very soft pieces of butternut squash. The pearl barley was superbly cooked and had this wonderful al-dente but also springy texture far more superior, in my opinion, to Italian rice. The aroma of the garlic loomed in the background. It was a good rustic dish cooked with imagination.
My other bib went for Confit Pig’s Cheek, Chicory, Pickled Cherries and Buttermilk. Look-wise, the dish was very similar to salad dishes from Bread and Wine. The flavour was mild to the point I felt it could do with some more dressing. The pickled cherries finely sliced along with the pickled gherkins did not add enough acidity and sweetness to the dressing. That said, the confit pork was really meaty and porky when it came to the smell. It was quite alright but not all the way there.
My other bib also asked for Devils on Horseback to share. They, to our surprise, couldn’t get this right. Part of the bacon was burnt; others just cooked. The prunes were too heated they almost turned jam. This was miles away from the ones we had at the Hind’s Head.
The mains were not as impressive, sadly. And along with my ‘Elwy Valley’ Barnsley Chop, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Anchovy Dressing came another family of hyperactive toddlers. F**k! I was not sure if it’s fair to say that my lamb was overcooked because I had not been asked how I’d like it done. So, it came, quite well done, when I’d rather have it medium rare. The broccoli was slightly overcooked. No crunch and one may eat without one’s dentures. The anchovy dressing was sort of creamy and salty. I didn’t think it worked with those too tender broccoli stems.
My bib went for Beef, Oyster and Ale Pie. It was massive. Some part of the crust was visibly burnt and he found it hard to cut through. The pastry – filo in this case – was thick and not altogether pleasant. It was adequate. The filling was well packed – big pieces of oyster and meat, etc. That said, the beef was not cooked to the point of tenderness, while the ale was not reduced enough oozing out a real pungent alcohol aroma, instead of just a subtle hint.
The desserts. I’ll start with my other bib’s Ale Cake, Chocolate Sauce and Salted Caramel Ice Cream. There was a well reduced, pleasant hint of ale in the cake. However, the cake itself was stodgy. There was hardly any air or any fluffiness within. It went alright with the combination. All in all – let’s just say – my other bib left half of it uneaten.
My Rhubarb Jelly, Custard with Shortbread Biscuit was, luckily, the BEST dish of the meal. The sweet, wobbly jelly layer was a delight to the tongue and to the eyes. I sticked my spoon to the bottom to dig up the curdy custard that was so chilled that it tasted like pannacotta. Flavours and textures were so marvellously well combined. The portion was a little too big I couldn’t quite finish it but found the whole thing thoroughly enjoyable.
The bill came to £70 something with two glasses of wine and without service. I had an issue with the card machine. It’s the first I came across that asked not only whether I’d like to add tip but also ask how many percentage of tip I wanted to add. There were three options: 5%, 10% and 15%. Found myself obliged to press 10%. That’s just me moaning.
Does the Drapers’ Arms make my cut? Not quite in term of price. I’d love it more if the ambiance was less of a playground pandemonia. The food was not up to scratch when compared to places like Great Queen Street, where I might even be paying for less, or Bread and Wine, where I’d be paying more or less the same but for better quality. The Drapers’ Arms sat in between. It was fair, decent, but not one of those I’d die to return.
On leaving… them bl**ping kids were still screaming.
My head rating says, “6.5 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.
44 Barnsbury Street
Tel. 020 7619 0348