THE BULL AND LAST - WHAT ALL PUB FOOD SHOULD LOOK LIKE
Yes, another gastropub. But one that aims for a star, at least. In many ways very similar to the Harwood Arms in Fulham which already boasts one star, the Bull and Last is a North London staple amongst well to do Hampstead and Highgate folks. One must book ahead well in advance to secure a table either on the lower or upper floor of the establishment, but once there, you are not rushed or don’t feel pressured at all. It really feels like a great big dining room or living room at home full of kids and families on a pretty high end Sunday lunch.
On the drinks front they pride themselves on locally brewed micro-ale and lagers and some fine wines instead of producing the usual offering of lagers and ales one would find in a non-gastropub and thankfully doesn’t try to play around with fancy Indonesian or Icelandic lager just to sell something for the sake of being different.
Onto the food. The secret of course is always in the ingredients and the preparation. A dish that cannot be missing from any modern gastropub is the cold cut platter with cornichons. Nice, thinly sliced „saucisson” or rather Italian salami with some vinegary tangy gherkins. Then another course from the snack menu while we pour our micro brewed ales and prepare for the main attractions: buttermilk chicken with aioli.
Now look at that steak tartare. The bright red radish, the crunchy cornichons and capers, the creamy egg and rock salt sprinkled on top, and the perfectly hand cut bits of steak. Yes, no intervention was necessary, no handjobs in mixing your own version or adding too much or too little of various ingredients. It was all freshly prepared and the balance of flavours was perfect. Salty capers, creamy egg, juicy steak, a bit of acid from the gherkins, a bit of onions, some worcestershire sauce, some mustard to spike things up.
Buttermilk coated and infused chicken is an American recipe in my mind as the home of buttermilk and many say that this brings out the best from fried chicken. I myself have never tried it before but I can truly say this was one of the most succulent yet crispy pieces of chicken I have every tried. Thanks of course to the deboned thigh meat which of course by default is far juicier than any breast but also to this mellow, rich taste and superbly crispy crust, positively the evidence of soaking in buttermilk. Crust is far better than panko or other novel approaches, this is the real deal here. Dip in aioli and enjoy.
Pasta. Another super comfort food: chicken liver, pappardelle and chestnut. wow. Perfectly pink, rich and creamy livers in a comforting slightly sweet chestnut sauce with a wide noodle that sucks up all the juice. Another great dish and a combination that seems unusual at first glance.
Another pasta dish. Once again pure comfort, but also a fusion of best British produce, seasonal ingredients and a bit of pasta to make it hearty and enjoyable. This time it’s brown crab meat from the Southern coast with a bit of crab bisque, a bit of greens, a bit of basil, some chili to give it a bit of heat. I do love simplicity in a pasta dish, and this one was really simple contrary to the previous one. All it had was the rich flavor of the sea condensed in the broth and the crab pieces and a bit of twang with the chili and basil. Nothing to distract us. Very enjoyable indeed.
As we were out on a Sunday lunch, there was no escape from some absolutely wonderful lamb prepared two ways, with some broccoli, caramelized shallots, triple cooked chips and a dark jus that it was all swimming in. See the plating, how it all seems to be piled on the plate in a random way? I think it’s completely intentional – every ingredient is showing nicely, but it looks like one of your friends put it together at a dinner party.
Although no pictures were taken of the desserts, the Bull and Last has one of the most extensive dessert menus I have ever seen. All of them are pretty excellent. The menu contains twelve (!) different varieties (think rhubarb, honeycomb, gingerbread, maltesers, millionaire, etc.) of homemade ice cream out of which we tried at least three or four varieties all amazingly good.
We also went for the very traditional Bramley Apple crumble, which almost made me cry and think about all the years I spent here as a child growing up in London. It had a very deep emotional effect on me, as you can see. They also have a Victoria Plum fool, as well as a Treacle Tart, amongst others so people with a sweet tooth may save up for lasts.
I do love these institutions. The cooking is absolutely fabulous. It carries the best of British produce, in lamb, brown crab, livers and you cannot deny the kitchen’s heritage and direction, but it still manages to mix it up with some Italian or even American comfort food features to take it to another level. I would definitely rate it a one star establishment, purely based on the taste, richness and creativity and the high quality ingredients used.
The Bull and Last
|168 Highgate Rd, London NW5 1|