The other day, a friend and I were talking about London pubs. There’s no shortage of them and getting a decent drink is hardly ever an issue, but if you’re after some decent pub grub, there are pubs and then there are pubs. When it comes to the food they serve, not all are created equal and the difference between great, pretty good, and god-awful is very noticeable.
The god-awful ones will usually have signs out the front claiming to serve the best ever burger or Sunday roast and proudly display photoshopped, too good to be true pictures of said burger or roast. The great ones are equally easy to find, they’ll be the ones geo-tagged on Instagram of where the best burgers or Sunday roasts actually are. So what about the pretty good ones?
I think these are a bit harder to seek out but if you have one in your neighbourhood, you’ll know about it and that’s your cherished local. We have a couple of pretty good ones in our neck of the woods but recently we explored further afield and ventured north to see if the good people of NW3 can say the same about the The Load of Hay Tavern. Like so many in London, this pub has been around for some time… since 1721 to be precise. It’s had a few incarnations over the years but has gone back to its pub roots with a modern twist.
The site has had a glorious makeover, it’s quite slick and swanky at first glance but is still comfortable and welcoming, which is what you want your neighbourhood local to be. They’ve also done some work on the menus, and both the food and beer selections are very respectable. Actually, scratch that, the craft beer selection is immense. We counted 12 beers on tap, one of which is the eponymous Load of Hay bitter red ale which a certain someone reports as being very drinkable. If none of those tickle your fancy, they’ve also got another 20 or so bottle beers from around the world… we were quite excited to spot a local Kiwi favourite, Tuatara, on there too.
We spent so much time trawling through the drinks list that we almost forgot about the food but don’t worry, the team from the kitchen sent us some little shots of their tomato gazpacho and brought us back to the task at hand! We settled on the crab cakes with tartare and the duck liver pate with caramelised onions to start – both are also perfectly suited to being nibbles alongside a few beers. The crab cakes were plump and crisp but I think the pate was the slightly better of the two. It’s hard to beat the taste of warm crusty bread topped with rich pate and sweet, sticky onions… in fact, they kindly brought us more bread just to make sure we could finish off every little bit of it.
When our mains arrived we realised we may have gone a little overboard in ordering. As the roast chicken in pan gravy and pork belly with apple slaw both came with no other accompaniments, we splashed out on the sides. Four in total seemed reasonable, we were hungry and sometimes sides can be quite tiny but not at The Load of Hay apparently. We should have given the gluey mashed potatoes a miss and could have passed on the Caesar salad in favour of the moreish buttery greens, but I don’t see how having double the veges can hurt anyone?! However, the side that should not be missed are the chips; these piping hot, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, pillows of potato were delicious. Good chips say a lot about an establishment.
As does the chicken dish, especially when it’s a simple as this one. The moist chicken with crisp skin, and thick, unctuous gravy was what could easily be described as a winning chicken dinner. My pork belly was equally tender and perfectly paired with the piquant apple slaw to cut through the richness of the fat, but my crackling-loving self did lament the lack of crackling on top… something to work on for next time perhaps.
We washed this all down with two interesting choices from the bottled beer selection – the Camden Flue Faker smoked lager and the Titanic Plum Porter. Without realising it, we had both chosen beers which were equally potent on the nose as they were to taste; the smoky, bacon-like scent from the lager was surprisingly tasty, while my porter’s fruity plum notes were splendid. A welcomed change to the chocolate flavours I usually find with dark beers.
By now, we were defeated… we both knew it but my sweet tooth was playing dumb so I convinced a certain someone we could share a dessert. After much deliberation, we settled on the strawberry cheesecake which arrived with a refreshing tart lemon ice cream. This sharpness was an ideal contrast to the cheesecake and the half pint of Thistly Cross strawberry cider I decided I needed too. This cider is quite sweet as you would expect but nothing like the other ones on the market with their cloying, fake fruit taste… this was far better and worth almost bursting at the seams for!
After a light lunch that day, we walked in craving a hearty Friday night feast and as you can see… The Load of Hay delivered, and defeated us! This comfortably falls into the category of a pretty good neighbourhood pub that the fine people of NW3 should be proud to call their local. The staff are extremely friendly, accommodating and knowledgeable – they’ll happily recommend dishes and drinks, or just stick around for a quick yarn! The menu isn’t flashy but it’s executed well and it’s still early days, I’m sure they’ll continue to tweak little things here and there to make it even better. The craft beer list on the other hand is pretty ideal as it stands, but soon they’ll be adding their own brew to the mix… something they’ve been working on themselves onsite… we’ll definitely be back to give it a taste, with a side order of those fantastic chips!
Have you got a neighbourhood local you adore? What’s your favourite pub grub?
Thanks to the lovely folk at The Load of Hay Tavern for looking after us so well, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!