Before 2010, I could have counted the number of times I have eaten in Clerkenwell on one hand. And on one of those occasions, KFC was involved, enough said really. I never really had any impulse to go and visit it, nor had any reason. If someone came up to me and said that Clerkenwell was the heartland of some great food, I would have guffawed in their face.
And then I started going there, and the diversity of amazing places to eat left my mouth open wide and my tummy rumbling. First came the markets, with Exmouth, Leather Lane and Whitecross street all brimming with excellent spots to feed your appetite. Then there are fantastic pubs such as the Coach & Horses and The Gunmakers and another Clerkenwell favourite in the Clerkenwell Kitchen. Oh, and Moro, can't forget Moro...
But in my eyes, one establishment rises above all others, The Eagle. Revered by many as the original gastropub, and part of the group which runs the Anchor and Hope down in Waterloo and Great Queen Street in Holborn, it changes it's menu every day depending on what produce they can get, as well as a few staples that are on the big chalkboard daily such as their steak sandwich.
I've visited on multiple occasions now and every time I go, something draws me away from that elusive steak sandwich. The menu chalked up behind the bar and over stoves features about seven or eight choices, all as mouthwatering as the next whilst having a small selection of "tapas" which are essentially small sharing plates. I remember the simply cooked chorizo in wine fondly and always look out for it if it's on the menu.
On my last visit, the steak sandwich was once again overlooked as myself and Naomi from the Ginger Gourmand opted for salmon, mackerel and pork. The little smoked salmon "tapas" was a generous portion of excellent smoked salmon with a dollop of creme fraiche and a squeeze of lemon. No airs and graces, just great food. Served with a little basket of bread and olive oil, the preparation got a bit messy as we doused the bits of bread in oil. Messy but worthwhile.
For mains, I had opted for a basque inspired stew using clams and pork. The stew arrived wafting it's deep aroma of paprika and pork in a light red stew. Each chunk of slow cooked pork broke apart with a touch from the fork, and combined with the gelatinous clams which had escaped it's shells, formed a delicious mouthful, full of different flavours and textures. Naomi opted for the mackerel with rhubarb and chill jam. Served whole, the meat had to be carefully prised away from the bones, but the freshness evident as soon as you put it into your mouth. The jam was an interesting addition, but the tartness from the rhubarb and the subtle burn from the chilli complemented the fish well.
The Eagle is a great restaurant. It serves excellent fresh food and it is unsurprising that it is so popular. Inside, it still maintains an aspect of rusticity with mismatched wooden tables and chairs, trying hard to maintain a semblance of being a pub. Although it is an enjoyable place for a drink, there is no real doubt that this is a place to eat, and a very good place at that. One day I will get round to getting my chops round that steak sandwich!
The Eagle - 159 Farringdon Road, London