Game At The Prince Arthur
On Friday I went down to The Long Table, Nuno Mendez’s new pop-up dining thing in the burgeoning cultural quarter of Dalston that is accreting around the Arcola and Cafe Oto. Everyone in else in Hackney had the same idea though; when we arrived there were people queuing for hundreds metres to get in it. Hats off to Mendez for the obvious success of his venture but we said fuck it and went to the Arthur.
As it turned out, the the pub was pretty busy too but after a pint or so we managed to grab a table. I was pretty pleased with our back up plan not just because the Arthur is a lovely pub but because it (and the rest of the ETM pubs) are currently running a series of game specials. (An email from them rather gratuitously boasts that “every November, Tom and Ed Martin and some of our senior chefs travel to the Czech Republic to hunt for deer and wild boar deep in the vast forests.”) This wasn’t a proposition I was likely to tempt the missus with so I was excited by the direction Friday night had spontaneously headed in. Intending to make the most of this I ordered two courses off the specials board. Unfortunately both truned out to be misleading and underwhelming.
The first was ox cheek and mushroom dumpling with red cabbage and bacon jus. When I think of a dumpling in the context of English cooking, I think of a snooker ball-sized lump of sticky, steaming flour or suet straight from a meaty broth. Instead what appeared was a something more akin to a fist-sized and deep-fried potato coquette. There was no appreciable taste of ox or mushroom, just warm solid stodge. It was placed on top of an absolutely enormous portion of cabbage, if you’d ordered this as a side for the tabel you’d have thought it generous. I know there is a lot of cabbage about at the moment but that doesn’t mean it all has to end up on the plate.
So I was already unneccessarily full by the time I moved to my main course of roe stew with caramelised onion and roast chesnut topping served with parsely mash. (our waitress helpful pointed out that this was wild deer rather than fish egg stew, apparently an earlier patron had been confused!) This again came with a huge amount of cabbage – savoy, this time, and drenched in butter. What it didn’t come with was any mash. Instead, this was roe and potato stew with a bit of parsley thrown in. I just don’t understand how on Earth this can happen, was the menu chalked up before the dish was created? Did they suddenly have second thoughts in the kitchen? I won’t have ordered the dish if it had been described accurately but at ten o’ clock at night I certainly wasn’t going to send it back, monster starter or not. On its own terms it continued to disappoint. The onions weren’t caramellised, only softened, and tasted strongly of vinegar, the chesnuts were pureed and disappeared into the vinegar, underneath there was lots of meat in the pot but it stringy and flavourless, lacking the depth I expect from game, and not well complemented by the parsely.
Meanwhile, N was more modest with fried sprats (impossible to get wrong but again huge) and fish and chips (a classic that they usually do well but both aspects were limp on this occassion). This came to a whopping £60 with just one pint of Amstel. Astonishingly poor value for mediocre cooking from a kitchen I had thought had been on the up and up.