I feel bad. It has taken me a good few weeks to write this one up. A few months ago, I was invited to try out Public House, a restaurant cum bar just off Upper Street in Islington. Not really sure what to expect, I was intrigued by some of the flavor combinations that they presented in a press release that they sent and coming from one of the old Loungelover team, I was expecting some decent grub in an elaborate and well thought out setting.
Never has there been a more misleading name for a restaurant. With a name like Public House, I would expect a roaring fire, a drunk local at the bar wearing a hat at a jaunty angle, maybe a dart board but definitely a fruit machine. Public House is as elaborate as it's provenance suggests. There are definitely influences of Loungelover in this space and although elaborate, feels comfortable and rather easy on the eye. With a small bar at the front, and a dining area towards the back, it's not a huge space but feels comfortable and not cramped.
The menu is short and changes every month but presents a variety of interesting options. I was drawn to the scallops, them being my "new favourite thing" and of course it had to be pork for the mains. Once we had ordered, we were presented with an "amuse" of salted cod flakes with "terrible" potatoes and roasted seeds. Now before you all shout at me, I realise that salted cod is going to be salty, but this was really too far gone. Every mouthful had me reaching for the water, which is a real shame as I actually quite liked the idea of the dish. The roasted seeds provided a nice contrast in texture to the cod and the only thing terrible about the potatoes was the name. Small cubes of soft potatoes perfectly sauteed with flecks of vanilla, surprisingly tasty.
Our first course in earnest were two large scallops, perfectly seared and presented with their roe still attached. Many places remove the roe, but it's a total waste. With a deeper flavour than the white flesh, it is arguably tastier. These scallops were perched on top of little disks of haggis and then again on top of sticks of rhubarb blanched in champagne. A very odd and somewhat ambitious combination but actually proved to be quite successful. The haggis was iron rich and was significantly mellowed by the sweet scallop. The tart rhubarb was a good contrast and I genuinely enjoyed such a strange combination.
My main was a far more straightforward pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta, stuffed apple and cauliflower purée. It's not often that I am disappointed by a pork dish, but this left a lot to be desired in my eyes. My main qualm was that the piece of meat was rather tough, and using the blunt knife I was provided, I hacked away a chunk. It tasted ok, but nothing to shout home about. The apple was stuffed with a smidgen of liver but my aversion to most things offal meant that this was largely left alone. Cauliflower puree was nondescript, the whole dish could have done with some starch and some gravy. Having said that, most dishes would benefit from starch and gravy.
Dessert was a sorbetto with blackberries. Incredibly light and refreshing, the actual sorbetto contained hints of a blackberry liqueur but arrived far softer than I anticipated. In fact, it was more like a blackberry slushy, pleasant, but not what I was expecting.
So that was that. A pretty average meal with some good ideas and some good cooking. If the kitchen can just pull both together in the same dishes, it should do well. After all, I find that the food around Upper street is rather poor in general, and I admire its ambition. Worth a try and certainly not your ordinary pub grub.
Public House - 54 Islington Park Street, London N1 1PX