I overheard the guy at a neighbouring table tell his date that he swore they were walking into a pub. And who could blame him; I could have sworn the same thing because from the quiet street in the middle of St John’s Wood, Crocker’s Folly does look like a pub. However, pass through those heavy front doors and you too might have that ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’ feeling because this is nothing like my neighbourhood pub. The mixture of marble and wood panelling lovingly retained from the original Crown Hotel created by Frank Crocker feels lavish but passable, though the chandeliers that loom over each of the dining rooms are undeniably ostentatious. I am a magpie, so naturally I love this glitz.
In case you are unperturbed by the surroundings, then the other dead giveaway that you have not stepped into a pub is in the food. No roasts, no bangers, no Thai takeover night, instead you will be greeted by an extensive array of Lebanese mezzes and grills, and a cocktail menu straight from any Soho lair. Between you and me, I’m utterly confused for the first fifteen minutes that I’m sat in Crocker’s Folly. The location, the exterior, the interior, the menu – none of it seems to fit together but perhaps that’s the folly which makes it work. Sometimes it is best not to overthink these things and just eat… I can forgive all manner of sins and silliness as long as I am well fed and watered.
But before we actually got to taste anything, we had to overcome the small hurdle that was the menu. Five types of hummus, a whole section dedicated to fried pastry parcels, and there were also ‘mains’… I find myself studying the pages so intently, when I finally go to order, I feel like I am sitting an exam. Did we order the right dishes, or more importantly to my grumbling tummy, did we order enough? At least we didn’t have long to wait for the results… you’ll be pleased to know that I awarded ourselves a B+ for the choices, and an A for the quantity.
My knowledge of Lebanese cuisine is somewhat basic so I have no idea if it’s common or not to top hummus with shawarma lamb or king prawns, but it felt too decadent. For me, the joy of hummus is in the purity of the chickpeas, tahini and lemon, blitzed together to form that creamy spread I would happily slather over any bread product I could get my greedy mitts on. My curiosity for the ‘fancy’ versions did get the better of me and I allowed myself the Beiruty hummus with the addition of red peppers flakes which provided the slightest hint of heat, to an already exceptional, balanced offering.
Both the potato and spinach kibbeh and the house-made soujok reduced me to a blubbering string of mmms and aaaahs. Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed by how little it took – this isn’t fancy food but it’s food I want to hoover up with a side of pitas and a big glass of wine. Special mention to the smooth and fruity Lebanese red they serve at Crocker’s Folly… that would good well with most things, not just mezze. The golden crusted kibbeh had me at first bite; these doughy balls hit that sweet spot between soft yet slightly chewy, and were well stuffed with spinach and onions. The mini soujok sausages with their gentle spices gradually building in heat, saw me doggedly dig around the bowl for more, even though we all know they were long gone.
I was less enamoured with the sambousek parcels of feta wrapped in pastry even though they would get full marks for being as crisp and cheesy as expected. That was not enough to overcome the fact that they were incredibly bland. A dipping sauce of some punch or pizzaz would have helped, but in lieu of that, I turned to the trusty hummus to breathe some much needed life into this dish. Some weeks later, I am still perplexed about whether or not I liked the overwhelmingly aromatic and unusually smooth textured bastorma beef carpaccio. The upside was that it was not like any beef carpaccio I’ve had before, and the downside? It was not like any other beef carpaccio I’ve had before… I like surprises but I’m leaning towards the side of ‘one spice too many in the marinade’ for my tastes.
When asked how we wanted the lamb cutlets to be cooked, we said ‘rare’ but had I known this would arrive precariously perched on the side of raw, I might have plumped for ‘medium rare’. Rare or raw meat doesn’t phase me, but I would have liked the lamb to have been kissed by the heat of the josper grill a minute or so longer. Thankfully, the cutlets were also meticulously tidied and trimmed of those unpleasant thick white fat which can so often be left unrendered when cooked quickly. They were served with a sassy chilli sauce and a side of rice and roast potatoes, but I would highly recommend you pair the lamb with the tomato and onion salad for an injection of freshness!
Crocker’s Folly surprised me, in a good way. The pub that wasn’t a pub, the elaborate dining room which looked more akin to a Victorian era parlour, and the Lebanese dishes which filled me to the brim with their flavour and soul. Like my table neighbour, you might walk into Crocker’s Folly expecting nothing more than a neighbourhood pub… but don’t let you what find instead send you back out the door. There is a lot to like here; bring friends, order generously and feast like the well-to-do ladies and gents that Frank Crocker once imagined filling the grand rooms of his Crown Hotel!
Are you a fan of Lebanese cuisine?
Thanks to Crocker’s Folly for the flavoursome mezze feast but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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