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The Bull and Last, London: ‘I love their grub and it’s date night’ – restaurant review | Food


The Bull and Last, 168 Highgate Road, London NW5 1QS (020 726 7 3641). Starters £4-£12, mains £10-£34, wines from £26

When Jay Rayner requested me to step in and deal with his beloved column for every week, it felt as if he’d given me the keys to his sports activities automobile or entrusted me to breastfeed his firstborn. The jammiest job within the enterprise solely requires the reply to at least one massive query: which restaurant brings me pleasure?

Well, I scoured the Michelin Map of Great Britain, deliberating over high quality eating and cafés alike. I thrashed out concepts of practice journeys to cottage kitchens within the nation and posh show-off eating rooms in faraway cities, however in the end I boiled it down to a different query: the place do I actually need to eat? And there, on the backside of my avenue, is the trustworthy reply: the Bull and Last.

‘Bejewelled with pomegranate seeds’: charred tenderstem broccoli. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

It’s a pub – in line with those that care about pubs. Also, as soon as every week, it’s a shining mild for quiz fans. Most just lately, it has opened up six luxurious rooms to remain in, and even affords picnic baskets for native walkers. But I’m heading there with my husband of 20 years (he’s not 20, the wedding is), as a result of I love their grub. It’s date evening and Jay Rayner is certainly not invited.

We are given an early desk as a result of they’re like gold mud – and I’m not the primary to find this 300-year-old inn nestling on a busy bus lane on the east aspect of Hampstead Heath in north London. The east aspect being the fallacious aspect of Hampstead Heath, in line with native writer Hunter Davies and the suckers who pay double the value for a similar dimension home solely two roads over to the west.

‘I’ve been having a food affair with it for a number of years’: buttermilk fried chicken.‘I’ve been having a meals affair with it for quite a few years’: buttermilk fried rooster. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

The Bull and Last’s attraction lies not simply within the oak-panelled open bar and restaurant, however within the workers’s heat and acquainted greeting. It’s virtually as in the event that they know you. And, let’s face it, that’s the ability of a gold-standard front-of-house. I’d moderately presume they’ve seen me on the telly or admired my cooking on Instagram, however the fact is that they could be pretending to recollect me. To ask how the household is doing is obscure sufficient to cowl themselves and welcome me with an everyday’s particular therapy. I don’t care both approach, as I do know that there’s a chocolate brownie with my identify on it and a second sitting anticipated in two hours.

So with no time to waste, I order a gimlet, to share. My husband appears at me as if he’s about to get fortunate. I break it to him {that a} gimlet is just not a horny piece of Victorian underwear, however a gin and lime cordial aperitif. Homemade lime cordial with a sprig of rosemary turned out to be sexier than lingerie any day. I’m an affordable date, so at this level I’m already drunk. I additionally want the Dutch braveness, as we resolve bravely to not order the identical factor we go for each time we come right here. You see it’s their buttermilk rooster that I’ve been having a meals affair with for quite a few years, however we each know it’s time to sow our seeds elsewhere, and I’m making an attempt to eat much less meat and no fish. Yes, I’ve seen the identical documentaries you might have.

‘Little crispy baby squid nuggets sent from the Devil’: chipirones.‘Little crispy child squid nuggets despatched from the Devil’: chipirones. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

So when my starter of charred tenderstem broccoli arrives, adorned with roasted pistachio dukkah, bejewelled with pomegranate seeds on a easy lining of tahini, I vow I’ll by no means stray from my new vegetarian mission. Unfortunately, my husband’s fried chilli and black pepper chipirones with aïoli has different concepts. Little crispy child squid nuggets despatched from the Devil, nicely, from the kitchen that make me sure there ought to be guidelines to this new lifestyle. The first rule being that if I didn’t order it, then it’s OK to eat it. Squid in a pub could be the floppiest, chewiest let-down of all, however expensive God of calamari… (I can’t use the octopus phrase as a result of I’ve seen that documentary, too). Here is a kindergarten of seafood so good, I begin planning our subsequent go to earlier than our predominant course has even arrived. All this washed down with a crisp French rosé on the rocks, starting from a glass at £4.50 to a bottle at £27. My husband is quietly ordering a beer that may solely be loved by Bull and Last prospects: So Solid Brew, a 4.4% pale ale that’s apparently each pale and ale. I glaze over somewhat at beer chat as a result of I mainly solely drink rosé, a shared attractive gimlet apart. FYI, this alcohol rule has saved me out of AA because of the lack of a very good pink choice after I need it, particularly throughout the winter months.

Usually at this level on a uncommon evening out à deux, I’d be glad to pack up and get again house to some elasticated clothes and a field set, however the pleasure of not choosing the buttermilk rooster for the primary time retains us wanting extra. Their predominant programs are recognized to be a mirrored image of the stuffed, mounted animal heads watching us dine; they had been early pioneers of nose-to-tail, and I’ve positively eaten a pig’s ear or two right here up to now. But altering tastes and a ardour for substances present up within the center programs, which vary from £15 to £34, providing fish-and-chip classics to pies and steak.

‘Childhood favourites at Michelin-starred taste levels’: brownie and ice-cream.‘Childhood favourites at Michelin-starred style ranges’: brownie and soft-scoop ice-cream. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

I, nonetheless, have my eye on one of many two vegetarian choices, each with celeriac on the coronary heart of every dish. I lie and say I’m so full I couldn’t probably match one other morsel in, suggesting I’d want one thing mild. It arrives as an image of peashoots and zucchini adorning a roasted steak of salt-baked celeriac on a candy broad-bean relish. Hearty but delicate, it confirms to me that I used to be proper to suppose exterior my rooster field. It is like consuming a backyard.

My husband, an all collectively extra meaty fella, has a sirloin steak and triple-cooked chips to rival any. Produce and suppliers are key to the success of this place and it elevates every dish that arrives. I’m a assured prepare dinner who loves being in my very own kitchen, so I have to stroll away from an evening out understanding I couldn’t have accomplished it higher. Well I couldn’t, and that’s confirmed with the arrival of the nice and cozy chocolate brownie and soft-serve vanilla ice-cream. I imply, what genius permits me to take pleasure in my childhood favourites at Michelin-starred style ranges? It is pointless to order a aspect ball of Malteser ice-cream however hell, it’s date evening and seeing as these good individuals have returned the Bull and Last to its hostelry roots, as my children usually counsel, possibly we’ll get a room in any case.

Jay Rayner is away