I have really mixed feelings about the word ‘gastropub’, it’s been massively overused by pubs serving big brand wine and mediocre food. A bit like bistro, trattoria or taverna, it’s a label that indicates the type rather than quality of food you’re going to get.
But, and it’s a big but, there are pubs that really live up to, and transcend the label. They serve high quality unpretentious, unabashedly British food, providing an experience you really won’t find elsewhere in the world. The Anchor and Hope is one of these.
Here, you’ll find simple, well sourced and brilliantly cooked grub showcasing what can be so good about food from our little island. The menu is cheerfully, even defiantly gamey and offaly, with echoes of St John about it.
You can’t book, you just turn up, add your name to the growing list, grab a pint and wait. I’ve waited 10 minutes and I’ve waited two hours before. You never quite know. But the beer is good, the atmosphere is buzzing and if you’re patient it’s a lot of fun.
We started with duck hearts on toast, crab broth with aioli and leek gribiche. The crab broth was deeply crabby – sightly pungently seafoody with a fishy bite. The leeks were, I think, braised and came slathered in a caper laden mayonnaisey sauce, smooth and sharp.
The duck hearts were the best of the bunch. Something of liver and venison in the taste and very tender. They sat on a half slice of toast with a sprinkling of sea salt. The combo was surprisingly delicate in a strong flavoured kind of way.
We had to bypass the suckling kid neck and chips through a lack of meat eaters, next time though. Instead we had roast wood pigeon, rabbit in mustard and bacon, and a potato and St Gall cheese pie.
All three were great, but the wood pigeon stood out. Roast rare, it was tender and tasty. The flesh was moist and the irony gamey taste was balanced by the browned skin and the earthy lentil sauce it sat on.
Desserts were the only, albeit slightly, negative part of the meal. They weren’t bad, they just tasted a little bland next to the menagerie of flavours served up in the previous two courses. The exception was the chocolate tart which was, well, exceptional. This was deep deep chocolate, the sort you could find yourself slowly tipping into as the taste took hold.
And the whole evening, including beer, a couple of bottles of wine and three full courses came to a shade under £40 per person. For cooking at this level, and considering the amount of alcohol we consumed, it was an absolute bargin.