Public House is a deeply confused soul. Everything about it – from its misleading name (it is not, in any way, shape, or form, a pub), to its frightful and incongruous art work, to the food it serves – suggests an entity that is unsure of itself. It’s Wayne Rooney playing rugby, it’s Hendrix playing bass, it’s Wilde writing Christmas cracker jokes – there’s potential, talent, and flashes of wonder, but ultimately it isn’t quite right.
The space itself is a delight, in a boutique-y, chi-chi, Notting Hill kind of a way. Low lighting, mis-matched furniture, mirrors all over the shop – you know the drill. It’s been done very well, but it is let down by art that does not fit in with the aesthetic at all – gaudy, distracting and brash when everything else is mellow and peaceful.
The way the menu is written is just as confused, at times sounding classical and elegant (Red pepper mousse with tomato consomme and thyme crackers), at others like a puerile in-joke (Chef’s fishy paella), and at others wincingly twee (Jerusalem artichoke soup with ickle watercress and pumpkin seed oil).
Emilie started with the cutesy soup (£6.50) – a top notch dish let down in an almost cataclysmic way by not being served with bread. It was a pretty fundamental error, and for a bread junkie like Emilie took the edge off an otherwise faultless and attractive bowl of soup. I ploughed my way through a doorstop sized hunk of duck terrine with roasted beetroot and beetroot leaf pesto (£7.50), which came close to being t’riffic but was let down by sloppy oversights. Something as fatty as duck requires a tart companion, but the roasted beetroot just didn’t have the necessary oomph to offset the rich meat.
Next was the most confused, ill-conceived and downright barmy dish I’ve eaten since I drunkenly tipped sun-dried tomato oil and a two month out of date egg into a bowl of spaghetti – a beautifully cooked piece of brill perched atop an excellent and tender venison stew (£15.95). The two, I think it goes without saying, should never have met. The fish was entirely lost beneath the rich venison, and was little more than a pariah in a handsome dish. Emilie’s rainbow trout with salsify and mustard beurre blanc (£12.95) was another occasion of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, an ever so slightly undercooked piece of trout and some well cooked salsify drowned by a sauce that didn’t seem to have encountered mustard at any point in its life.
Puddings were, I hate to say, a bit of a disaster. The apple and berry pie seemed to have been shipped in from a diner in Nebraska – it was vast and stodgy and the sort of thing that probably tastes like an angel’s nipples on a hangover but that should be avoided in any other context. I had the cheese platter – Somerset brie was creamy but lacked in any discernible flavour other than salt, while the herb crusted cheese looked pretty but was roundly trounced by said herbs.
So it was a frustrating evening. I loved the restaurant, I enjoyed the staff, the wine, and the general bonhomie of the place. And the chef Ivan Cubillo can clearly cook, and cook very well at that – the times things went wrong were those when he was trying to be too clever. In fact, that’s the problem with Public House in general – it lacks courage in its convictions. If you make a cracking venison stew you should serve it as it is instead of trying to posh it up with a redundant piece of fish. Similarly, if you have created a stylish boutique restaurant, why try to make it edgy by putting graffiti on the walls? If it makes it through adolescence, Public House could be a very good restaurant indeed.