As a kid I hated the tube. The London Underground terrified me, all the bold black lines scattered on the maps, the multi-coloured stops blurring and confusing the hell out of me. Goodge Street always seemed funny.
As an adult I developed bravery and overcame the phobia.
Taxis’ I’m partial to. They make travelling from A to B simple – most of the time.
Influxes of Arabian son’s have invaded the capital. Our Hampstead cabby (without tom-tom) took us up, down, around, and at one point I thought, through, Hampstead Heath. In broken English he asked for the name of the destination, “The Spaniards Inn,” I said, thinking its history and notoriety would be enough. “Planards Inn?” he replied. “No, Spaniards, S.P.A.N.I.A.R.D.S.” It was like speaking with one of those telephone cinema selectors – “Maidstone Odeon please.” “Did you say Watford Odeon?” “Nooooooooooo!!!”
My blonde companion (anything similar sounding is already copyright of A.A.Gill) urged the driver to listen, “I’m familiar with the route, but not certain. Take a right turn and then drive straight for 200 yards.” Her temper was subtle and controlled, unlike myself.
A ten-minute journey took forty minutes and we arrived tired and weary, above all, hungry.
With its history; its lob-sided wooden floorboards, tall winding staircase and rural fireplace, The Spaniards Inn has the exact appearance of an ancient Hampstead tavern.
The legendary highwayman and famed rogue, Dick Turpin, is said to have drunk here and used it as a hide-out. According to the pub’s own information, his father was the landlord here in the early 18th century and Richard was born at the inn. Some even claim that Turpin’s ghost haunts the premises, which could explain why our evening went from absurd taxi drive to a ridiculous restaurant experience.
The service was snail slow and embarrassing, comparable to the pub atmosphere of a busy student’s union – genuinely nice kids but without an idea of basic service, manners or even remembering to place the order and deliver the food at all! After seating ourselves in the upstairs restaurant we waited over an hour for our food to arrive.
I collared a studenty looking French employee who apologised and returned with ‘Posh Mushrooms on Toast’ (wild mushrooms in cream and herbs on granary toast, £5.75). As a starter is was good. The mushrooms were served in a creamy heap over the wedge of toast and a small garnish salad on the side was refreshing against the mushrooms.
And then the “BUT”. During our starter, our mains arrived, were placed on the table next to our posh mushrooms, with the service waiter walking off. “Excuse me,” I said, “Won’t this get cold?” “Yeah,” he replied. “Then could you please take it away and wait until we have finished our starters?” It was utter craziness.
Fifteen minutes later the mains arrived. One serving of fish & chips (beer battered haddock, chips, tartar and mushy peas, £10) and my Elwy valley lamb leg steak (£9.00), which arrived as a simple steak I’m fairly certain, without even a hint of lamb in sight, and served with a mixture of cold vegetables and salad. Not a happy matching. This was terrible. Hot and cold together just don’t work. The meat was fatty and tasteless and one of those rare moments when the bone actually outsized the meat.
I was told the fish was no better. Soggy, oily and a dry batter, which clearly had either been re-heated or kept under kitchen lighting for too long?
A decent Malbec at £15 a bottle was some redemption, if not just to wash away the taste of a disastrous meal.
We walked home. Half an hour.