The Prince Arthur had sold out of Aberdeen Angus. Not a problem for me – shit happens – and my wing-man soon came around. But being someone of faith that any Pub with requisite sense of its onions will go all out to cover all bases, I also know that whenever you sell numbers on a steak dish it means only one thing; there's not enough else to choose from.
I respect a short menu. But if you're going to be concise you've got to be commercial. The trouble is that the ‘28 day aged Rib of Beef, Peppercorn Sauce and Hand-Cut Chips ( for two to share )’ (£38) was head and shoulders the most inviting thing on it. What was presumably the last portion was ferried past us as we walked in. It looked awesome. Everybody thought so. Everybody, it seemed, shared it. It was no more and it wasn't 8.30pm.
In its absence, then, there was a decision to be made. I still want carrion, I know that. I've been shifting furniture all afternoon. What else is there? ‘Jugged Hare’. Absolutely clueless as to what that means. Didn't even bother with the accoutrements. Braised Cumbrian Chicken (with Chicken and Tarragon Mousse? You go to the trouble of making a cavity and then fill it with itself ?) What else is there? In the way of meat, I'd had it. There's a traditional Fish and Chips (£12.50), but we had that last night (Fish House, Lauriston Road), and there's a blonde Skate Wing from Guernsey (£15) who, despite bringing with her brown shrimp, egg, and a dill and horseradish dressing, I know from experience will be all skin and bone.
So what did I end up with? Bubble and Squeak. What else ? Me old muckers B and S. With a crispy Hen's Egg – a perfectly runny, homemade ‘scotchie’ – and Hollandaise. £11 nicker. Chim-chim-cheroo. Chuffed, I was, an'all. And you can spare me your faux-cockney, anti-veggie panto protestations because it was, to quote Alfie Doolittle, ‘lavverly’.
They pull it off here at the Arthur for number of reasons. Firstly, the greeting as we entered was all smiles and personality. They wanted us to stay and eat. They wanted to help. Us and each other. And I'll forgive anybody anything for that. Second, while for a pub it feels a bit too clever and can appear a bit frilly on the plate , there are no shortage of classics – pints of Prawns are sold with Mayo, Rock Oysters with Shallot Vinegar by the half dozen – and there's absolutely no disputing the quality of the cooking. Pan Fried Chicken Livers, Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Toasted Brioche, Madeira Reduction (£6) as a starter were a sensation. Sweet. The other fella's Wood Pigeon and Guinea Fowl Terrine with Sourdough (£7), equally so. He did go for the Chicken, which he demolished and, as I say, mine did exactly what it ought'a.
This is a proper East End pub. Upscale and distinctly English it, and its food offer, sits beautifully within its sorely sophisticated habitat. A better range of ales would be preferable – there was one, Fuller's, of the four pumps in use – but the wine list showed decent variety; the Gamay warmed the back of my throat when the beer had ceased to cut it. The smartly dressed diners in attendance when we arrived later gave way to card schools and characters looking to catch dessert before the kitchen closed, and the Deep Fried Chocolate Sandwich with Praline Ice Cream looked like a confection worth coming back for. If only they'd convinced the man on the stove to replace a Fish dish with a Lamb or Pork, maybe stick in a gourmet Burger, and I wouldn't have had to kick off on a mildly negative note. These girls smile so sweetly, though, when they told us the Rib was off it rather felt like they were doing us a favour.