In January I went to Public House in Islington for the first time. I was there on a deal from Top Table: 2 courses for £10 off the a la carte menu, a deal I thought too good to be true. But it was true and it was good. Very good indeed.
I got invited back to the launch of the new spring menu last night. This time the food wasn’t just good value – it was free.
A free dinner for me and a friend, nice. I took my friend, Jen, as she was the one who recommended Public House to me in the first place.
The chef had selected three starters, three mains and a dessert to showcase the spring menu and each table was given a few of each dish to share amongst themselves. This presented a slight problem at first since the other end of the table had two dishes between six and we somehow ended up having to share one between five. This was made more difficult by the fact that two of the five (a) did not like talking to strangers, (b) did not like sharing with strangers, and (c) did not seem to like each other very much either. Thankfully for us, it all became too much for them and they left after the second starter, after which we were three, me, Jen and a fellow foodie called John who was writing a review for London Larder.
The first starter, and my favourite, was fillet of rainbow trout and slow-cooked fennel with crayfish sauce and preserved lemon. The crayfish sauce was a creamy bisque, and one of the best I’ve had. It had the essence of shellfish without being rich and overpowering, some light aromatics and a touch of cream making for a soft and delicate finish. One of those aromatics was fennel, also the accompanying veg; a nice way to bring together different elements of the dish and a good choice regardless since fish always goes well with veg and herbs from that family.
Spring salad of baby spinach, beetroot, goat’s cheese and walnut with a poached free range hen’s egg sounded pretentious but was humble and unassuming. Beetroot and goat’s cheese is always a winning combination and worked particularly well with the walnuts. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the egg, hen’s or otherwise, was necessary since the dish would have worked perfectly well without it, but it didn’t do any harm either and it looked nice perched on top.
Best dish was a toss up between rainbow trout and shoulder of lamb with pea puree and broad beans, which John dubbed the ‘man’s starter’. But Jen and I loved it two, disproving his theory, and with our new arrangement of three to a dish we had wolfed it down in a matter of seconds. The lamb was meltingly tender, rich and gamey, more winter than spring, but the pea puree and broad beans lent a spring element.
Starters are almost always the highlight for me, and as usual I found the mains less interesting. This may also have been partly to do with the fact that one of the mains was chicken, which I would never order. It was poached breast of corn-fed chicken and came with grilled courgette and a red pepper and orange sauce. The sauce was slightly spicy, sweet and tangy and paired well with the other Mediterranean flavours; we just wished there was more of it.
Same goes for the gravy that accompanied the fillet of Gloucester ‘Old Spot’ pork, wild garlic mash, sprouting broccoli and apple jelly, in this case because the meat was not as tender as it could have been; they had a lot of people to serve at once so I imagine it would have been better on a normal night. The apple jelly was, in fact, actual jelly – by which I mean the type you might put with ice cream – which I thought was a fun and novel idea.
My favourite main was the pan fried fillet of gilt head bream, spring greens, aubergine puree and warm cherry tomato dressing. The bream was perfectly cooked with tender flesh and a crisp skin and worked well with the creamy aubergine puree, which had been seasoned with roast garlic and lemon. My first thought was that some Middle Eastern spices would have worked well in the puree, but that was before I tried the tomato dressing, which was actually more like a salsa, tangy and zesty. It gave the dish the oomph I was looking for.
Jen and I are not ‘dessert people’ and neither of us would have chosen the lemon and lime posset with pineapple salsa. Lucky then that you get what you are given at a tasting, because we both agreed that it was delicious. It had a good balance of sweet and tart and it did not feel heavy, despite the fact that it was very creamy. The pineapple added a nice textural contrast and gave another dimension to the sweet and sour balance of flavours.
Service was exceptionally friendly and smooth given the type of event they were catering. The hosts were particularly keen to get feedback on the dishes at the end of the night and it was nice to feel that they valued our opinions.
Last time I recommended Public House on account of the amazing value. I still hold that Public House is great value, with or without a deal, but it is more than that. I had some minor criticisms here and there, but they were just that – minor and they do not take away from the fact that the experience as a whole – food, service, wine, venue, ambience – is very good and reliably so.
I’ll be back again. Soon.