Sunday 2 September 2007

Anchor and Hope, London, SE1

I've been gagging to go to the Anchor and Hope for bloody ages. It hasn't helped that Oli who sits opposite me at work has now been twice and reminds me of it as often as he forgets to make me tea! So this week the perfect excuse to go came up. Mum rang out of the blue and asked if Cowie and I wanted to go to the theatre on Friday night at the Old Vic... and would we like to go for an early supper as well.

Now the thing everyone always says about the Anchor and Hope is, get there early and be prepared to queue. So we arranged to meet at 6 in order to be able to scoff down two courses and a slurp some wine before doing battle with an obscure Spanish play full of transexuals and transvestites!

Typically I arrived late because of a marathon, delayed conference call, to find everyone already assembled and ready to order on my behalf! I soon put an end to that and opted for potted crab on toast followed by roast Middlewhite pork with crackling... although in my haste I had meant to say pot roasted pigeon! It's weird what comes out of your mouth under pressure sometimes. But the thing with their menu is that you could have accidentally ordered anything on it and come up trumps.

The dining room is literally curtained off from the rest of the pun a bit like the scene in Hamlet where Polonius gets stabbed, or the division on planes between business class and thrift. I guess it makes it easy to open the whole venue out of necessary and also gives the room a nice relaxed texture. Tables are plain wood and chipboard and I don't think any of the chairs match. It's just how I like things. I think the Japanese have an expression for it called "Wabi Sabi"... which is a celebration of the imperfect. It makes you feel at ease with your surroundings, happy to be wearing trainers, late, in a rush and keen to enjoy some gorgeous food.

We loved the mini school glasses for wine. They must be so much easier to dish wash and are almost unbreakable. Practical. That's the word for this place. Practical. Very British.

Cowie's crayfish arrived looking like beasts out of hell... dangerous little claws and deep, blood red in colour. She must have had half a dozen of the little devils on her plate alongside her small glass of garlicy mayonaise... I managed to steal one of them, purely for reporting purposes of course, and can reveal that they were far less sweet and saline than langoustines... more earthy and really juicy. I remember reading an article about them saying that they are impostors from America an are decimating our native versions. If this is right then good on the Anchor and Hope for perpetuating the cull... if not, well they're tasty little lobsters!

My crab on warm buttered brown toast was exquisite. Slurpy, salthy, sweet, well textured and plenty of it. You'd have to go a long way to better it. The only times I have had better crab have never been in this format. My crab at the Riverside in Dorset was stunningly fresh and showstoppingly good, as was wok steamed crab with ginger, chilli and black bean sauce on Lamma Island off Hong Kong. But this was the best potted crab on toast that I've eaten... Yum.

Mum had terrine which she said was OK and Suz had a salad that almost filled the entire table which kept her quiet for 10 minutes so it must have been good!

The next door table ordered a leg of kid. It arrived looking slighly smaller than a leg of lamb and was greeted with great reverence by the table of four men keen to devour their meat. A chap in a red jumper did such a bad job of carving that Dad was tempted to offer his assistance but instead declared that it made him ill to even watch someone carve that badly! He was carving with the grain, giving his mates vast hunks of meat rather than Dad's slender chunks! Schoolboy! If you're going to order a whole leg of goat you'd better practice your public carving skills in advance!

Cowie and Suz shared an enormous fish soup from a communual couldron that could have been a prop in Macbeth. The vast pot was chock full with gunard, mussels, scallops and all sorts of other goodies and probably made from the stock of Cowie's crayfish!

Mum and Dad tucked into their Dover Soles with equal enthusiasm. Two each seemed excessive but neither complained. They looked beautifully cooked and judging by the lack of commentary from Dad must have met with his approval. His laparotamy on both fish was perfect so they must have been cooked perfectly.

My pork arrived to a small sqeal from Cowie when she realised that it wasn't a dish for two. I valiantly tucked into my enormous mound of swine savouring every forkfull of juicy, tender white meat and light crunchy crackling. It's hard to do the crackling justice using words alone. It was as light as a wafer, warm, crisp and simply divine. I'll never forget it. Simply spectacular.

This was British cooking at its most authentic. Top quality ingredients. No mucking around and posh French names. Just good, solid, brilliantly cooked food in a charming, low key setting.

I simply can't wait to go back so we can spend more time enjoying it... and to do some carving! Luckily Mum and Dad enjoyed it so they are keen too!

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