The Truscott Arms, Maida Vale. Trust me.
Thinking that The Truscott Arms is somewhere vaguely up there in Maida Vale, my Google Maps App tells me that it is a mere seven minutes by car from my present location. I press the “walk” option. 23 minutes, 1.1 miles, via the Paddington Basin. For those of you who don’t know, Paddington Basin is the terminus of the Paddington arm of the Grand Junction Canal.
23 minutes seems entirely do-able in my new active world, the one in which I measure my steps and am disappointed if I don’t reach 12,500 by the end of each day. C is not entirely won over by the new, more active me and I notice a shoulder-slump at the thought of the walk. I manage to get him out of the door before he has time to negotiate and we’re off.
What’s the Truscott Arms then, he says, why are we going? Trust me, I say, doing my Jungle Book impersonation, it’ll be fine, I’ve seen pictures and everything and people I know have been there and say it’s good. That is the sum total of my market research; a few mentions on Twitter, by people I know just a little.
As we walk up to the pub, there is a little three-piece combo playing outside and the aftermath of a wedding party on the ground floor. Lots of relentlessly middle-class types braying and blocking the route to the staircase leading to the restaurant. C’s face spurs me on to sharp-elbow my way through.
An oasis of calm awaits on the first floor of this bright large Victorian pub. The décor is quirky/traditional and they have clearly been to a decent lighting supplier as they have those Ingo Maurer wall lights, the ones that look like a light bulb surrounded by angel wings. Tip: if there are four of you, ask for one of the upholstered booths.
The tables are comfortable, there are lovely leather chairs and I can hear no music, other than the combo outside. We are already winning.
An delicious amuse bouche sandwich of cheesy shortbread filled with cream cheese starts us off and is followed by some excellent caraway seed bread, I suspect home-made. The butter is too hard to spread without destroying the slice. #Firstworldproblems.
We consider the tasting menu (£59) but fear that it may be too much for a Friday night and stick to the dinner at £32 for two and £37 for three courses.
I have a cocktail, The Lady Truscott, with Lavender-infused gin, muddled blackberry and crushed ice, laced with myrtle. It is whooshed into my face through the straw in a matter of seconds. I toy with the idea of the Simon and Garfunkel, which naturally contains parsley, sage rosemary and thyme. I once had to sing that song in front of my class, when I was five years old. I still know the words.
Because there are too many things I need to try on the menu we add an additional course, thus effectively eating even more than we would have done on the tasting menu. Asparagus with morels, to share. Lightly cooked, retaining bite, with a lime dressing and sprinkled with micro-greens, this is perfectly done.
C chooses the crab, with cucumber, radishes and borage. Crab mayonnaise, in a sea of green, with pickled cucumber and a curl of what appears to be mooli. He goes quiet, or rather he goes even more quiet and smiles. “It’s really good”, he says, “excellent, actually.”
I am otherwise engaged with my fat, firm scallops, smoked bacon, lemon and truffle. The scallops are caramelised and the bacon is a thick tranche, with crispy skin. It almost overpowers the delicate seafood but not quite and the dressing ties it all together. I cannot, I confess taste the truffles but no matter. I do not miss them.
C is equally effusive about his red mullet, with wild garlic, Jersey Royals, spring greens and Wiston Estate wine sauce and goes into paeans of praise about the grapes studded round the fish and their sharpness and the lifting of that dish by the piquant top note. I quietly wonder what I have done to a man who, when we first met, thought that macaroni cheese Kraft dinner was an acceptable meal choice.
I am quietly demolishing the halibut in a cream cider sauce served with a stick of salsify, on a bed of sea-beet greens. To the side of the fish, pink onion cups, filled with smoked mussels. It is simple and excellent and the top note here is the onion, almost raw. It is the second time I’ve seen the use of onion sections as food-conveyances and it’s obviously a thing.
Before I have a chance to fall off my chair, C asks for the dessert menu. I am concerned that the walk may have dislodged something in his brain. He wants the rhubarb and the chocolate, so suggests both. I am so pleased at this display of appetite and menu mastery that I just nod. Let’s not pretend that I wish this to be a permanent state of affairs, but every now and again I am happy to pretend that I don’t have to control absolutely everything, all the time.
The rhubarb is a deconstructed crumble on speed. The black pepper gives unexpected heat and there are little blobs of meringue on top of the sticks of rhubarb. The rhubarb sorbet gives it a sharp kick. I like the uncompromising tartness of it.
I am having some difficulty in wresting the chocolate with loquats and jasmine tea from C, who is making appreciative noises from the other side of the table. On a bed of dehydrated chocolate sit two scoops, one of dark rich mousse, almost entirely lacking in sweetness and another of something white, possibly chocolate, possibly cream, lacking any discernible flavour next to the bully-boy chocolate and the super-sweet loquat and adding only a contrasting texture. It is the only part of the dish that doesn’t press all the buttons.
Whilst the going is good I drop the bombshell that we are walking home. I ignore the face.
On our way, we talk about the food and are both agreed that this is one of the best gastropub meals we have had for some time, that there is a sure hand in the kitchen and that it is brilliant value for £37.
The Verdict : Seasonal and carefully cooked food, beautifully presented and great service combine to make this our go-to local. It is much better than the bland “the cooking is good here” quote from Charles Campion on their website. It put a smile on C’s face. That’s all you need to know.