Having only lived in London for 18 months or so I am still occasionally baffled by the notion of travelling an hour for dinner and not staying the night. It seems somehow perverse to bookend something that is a generally relaxing exercise – eating – with two hours of something that is not. The evening ends and you, well-fed and rosy-cheeked, would like nothing more than to slink up to bed in a nightgown and slippers. But no, back out into the cold with you, and another schlep across town. To endure all of this in return for a so-so meal is little short of heartbreaking.
Happily, the Havelock Tavern in Brook Green is the sort of pub you dream of finding at the end of a long, wind-chapped journey. Cosy without being soporific, gastro-pubby without being wanky, it is probably a good thing I don’t live closer. The bar sits big and proud in the middle of the room, with a fine selection of beers including the increasingly – and deservedly – ubiquitous Wandle. A fire crackles and spits in one corner, and candle-lit tables line the walls.
The menu, then. Well it changes daily – to a point, I think – and is good and succinct, employing a 5-5-3 formation. It’s properly seasonal, too – parsnips, mussels, Jerusalem artichokes and rabbit. It was a nice surprise to see pork shoulder on the menu, as opposed to the more commonly found belly.
Emilie started with mussels (£7), a neat little bowl of well-cooked mollusc topped with ‘melted’ onion and bacon. Its bath of cider, thyme and creme fraiche worked very well indeed, as you would expect it to, and made for excellent moppage, as mussels’ liquor always should. My starter of field mushroom salad with Jerusalem artichokes, roast red onions and watercress (£7.50) was spankingly good. I’d had misgivings about the use of truffle oil in the dressing, it often just being an excuse to add £1 to the cost of a dish, but it was added sparingly and only brushed the strong flavour of artichoke, onion and mushroom.
It seemed deeply unimaginative but, after having it recommended by two people independently, I found the word ‘bavette’ (£14.00) escaped my mouth before I could really stop it. I’ll attempt to avoid hyperbole, but it was the best steak I’ve had in a long, long time, edging both the onglet at the Drapers Arms and Hawksmoor’s rib-eye. Tender but with decent chew, a charred, crisp crust, seasoned to a pinch, and with a sauce that wiped the floor with the ‘legendary’ one at Le Relais de Venise. Chips were also spot on. Emilie’s fish cake (£12.00) was irreproachable. If you like prunes then try the stuffed saddle of rabbit (£13.50). I don’t, so I didn’t.
Puddings – all at £5 – offered a novel experience, in that it was the first time I’ve looked at a pudding menu and fancied everything. Toasted banana bread with ice cream and toffee sauce was a clever twist on a sticky toffee pudding, while custard tart with rhubarb was refined yet hearty. Perfect pink rhubarb, vanilla-y filling, short pastry. Are you still reading or are you donning overcoat and gloves and striding to West London?
The one dud note is the loos. For the boys this isn’t a big deal, but for the gals it probably is. They’re cold, white, bleached, charmless. Industrial loo roll, reviews from 3 years ago on the walls (it’s very disconcerting having to pee whilst William Sitwell grins at you), and clapped out old hand-dryers. It’s not the biggest of quibbles, but nor is it the smallest. Dry-led pubs are viral, and it is attention to detail that will dictate which ones sink and which ones float. The Havelock has the food spot on. Sort the bogs out and I might just move in.
The Havelock Tavern
57 Masbro Road,
My supper was very kindly comped by the pub.