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An East End gastropub on the up

<strong>The Princess of Shoreditch<br />76 Paul Street EC2A 4NE,<br />Tel: 020 7729 9270<br /></strong><br />Cost per person without wine: &pound;34<br /><br />THE NEWLY revamped Princess of Shoreditch describes itself as a &ldquo;gastropub and restaurant&rdquo;, which might be seen as having your cake and eating it, but the owners have grand ideas. In the bar downstairs you can get souped-up pub grub at souped-up prices (a tenner for a pie, &pound;13.50 for a lamb chop), but you can&rsquo;t reserve. You can in the upstairs dining room, however, which has a smarter atmosphere, and is reached via an elegant, iron spiral staircase. The tables have crisp white cloths to emphasize that you are no longer in a pub &ndash; even though you are &ndash; and the menu has even more elevated prices.<br /><br />Sitting on a quiet corner just off the main Old Street drag, there&rsquo;s been a pub on the site since the 18th century, and it remains a rather lovely place to visit. The redesign has given it a suitably distinguished feel, with chic grey/green walls, low lighting, and a cosy ambience. You can get your pint of ale (from independent local breweries, including one offering something called Side Pocket for a Toad) in a cheery beer jug. As a place out east to go for a winter pint, it&rsquo;s a winner.<br /><br />As a place out east to head for a good meal, it&rsquo;s okay, though the dining room never really feels like more than the upstairs room of a pub, whatever the proprietors&rsquo; aspirations. You still have to go downstairs and wade through packs of drinkers if you want to use the loo, after all. But I like it anyway &ndash; it&rsquo;s a chattery, buzzy place when we visit on a Friday night, full of Shoreditch trendies packed in snugly and overlooked by black-and-white photos of music hall madams.<br /><br />The menu is English seasonal with the odd Gallic twist, and has some tempting combinations. It veers somewhat on the fussy side though &ndash; reductions, jus and dressings are 10-a-penny &ndash; and it&rsquo;s too expensive, with mains averaging &pound;15.50.<br /><br />I&rsquo;m a sucker for anything with tarragon in it, and a rabbit and tarragon terrine was bursting with the stuff &ndash; it was a sweet, satisfying start to my meal, and rather pretty too. My friend had a cluster of medium-sized scallops with some tiny wild mushrooms nestled between them, drizzled with a creamy sauce that was a bit salty.<br /><br />For mains, I went for pan-fried monkfish with crushed potatoes, leek and truffle sauce and of course a jus. It was rather good &ndash; the fish was meaty but just tender enough, and the sauce luscious. My friend chose a three-way duck dish &ndash; breast, confit leg and foie gras, with honey salsify and an orange jus &ndash; that was fine, if a little lukewarm. We asked for some mashed potato on the side, and it arrived sculpted into a smooth, rugby ball-shaped quenelle. It looked like a shaved baked potato and summed up the general sense of over-doing things, as did the presence on the dessert list of &ldquo;rosemary creme brulee&rdquo; &ndash; really, there are places to mess with creme brulee and a pub isn&rsquo;t one of them. <br /><br />Nevertheless, my chocolate fondant did what a fondant should, and the English cheeseboard ticked my pal&rsquo;s boxes.<br /><br />It&rsquo;s not the refined dining experience the prices and menu flourishes suggest, but it&rsquo;s certainly not bad, and the place has an easy charm helped by the attentive, friendly service. One thing that doesn&rsquo;t help, however, is the failure of the crockery and cutlery to get on with one another. Flat plates are not the done thing these days, but our heavy-handled knives and forks insisted on sliding down the sides of the bowl-shaped plates any time we put them down. It may seem minor, but you feel a little silly having to wipe jus off your knife handle every time you reach for your glass of wine.<br /><br />Still, this is a convivial gastropub, and deserves to re-establish this historic venue&rsquo;s place in the Shoreditch mix. It will hopefully draw a City crowd east as well &ndash; particularly those who get bonuses.<br /><br /><strong>IN A NUTSHELL:</strong><br />It&rsquo;s a little too pricey, but this is a smart, superior gastropub in the East End.