W11 scores a gastropub bullseye

The Clarendon
123a Clarendon Road, W11 4JG
Tel: 020 7229 1500

Cost per person without wine: £25

AS I CRAMMED homemade fish fingers into my mouth via a glob of chivey aioli, hungry after my trek into deepest Holland Park, I thanked the food gods for the continuing and improving presence of gastropubs in London. The Clarendon is a prime example of the kick-arse formula – I had to suppress shrieking “take this, French people!” between bites that were bang on trend, both haute and rustic in one, and well priced.

The Clarendon is in a lovely space – I had thought the same when I visited its precursor, Anthony Worrall Thompson’s esteemed Notting Grill, now out of business. It’s all exposed wood and brick, cosy and with high ceilings and enormous windows. Upstairs is a pair of lounges kitted out in boho style with their own bar, and then a roof terrace which would be perfect for enjoying the pub’s impressive cocktails were the weather ever to improve. (Note that cocktails – good ones thank you – are just another string to the bow of the modern gastropub. I was grateful for my pre-dinner not-too-sweet mojito, I really was).

As one expects these days of a place calling itself a gastropub, there’s a nifty, clever collection of wine that would please anyone from a pub crawler to a buff – as well as some bone-dry and excellent Prosecco that we favoured to celebrate the sun peeking through the clouds at last. That said, the glass of luscious, smoky red (I don’t think we even asked what it was – the waiter just insisted it went with my companion’s steak and it sure did) was excellent.

Aside from the fish fingers, there was a very nice ham hock terrine with a piquant “paprika caramel” sauce, and some heavy duty giant pan-fried prawns that were good but predictably a hassle to eat and therefore a bit out of place. The aforementioned steak (we went for the T-bone at £23 though sirloin is available at £18) was enormous – the width of a frisbee – but juicy and good. The amber chips on the sidecompleted the value-for-money feel of the plate.

My pan-fried halibut with vegetables was ok – though the cleansing meatiness of the fish was obscured slightly by a fussy sauce and fixings (a slippery medley of vegetables). Perhaps I should have stuck with the coarser, meatier side of things, which seemed to be the pub’s strength – spatchcocked poussin marinated in thyme, baby garlic and bay leaves with salad and chips caught my eye, as did the chateaubriand for two over which the people at the next table were smacking their lips.

We could barely manage dessert. But we thought it only fair to have a go. Truth is, if you’ve eaten lustily here for starters and mains, you shouldn’t really have space for the super-clunky desserts. Discovering the brownie was sold out (who cares about obesity anyway?), we went for a too-sweet but still lovely boozy trifle and a very good round little cherry tart with custard. The Clarendon – only open a few weeks – has hit the ground running, and should make anyone proud to be a Londoner.