The Marksman. Right on target.
Post Brexit, I am taking my chances taking C to Hackney to eat. It would have been bad enough had the vote gone with Remain, but less than five days after what was for C pretty much the end of western civilisation, I am playing with fire.
And of course it is raining, after what feels like an apocalyptic thunderstorm and part of me is wondering what I was thinking. The feeling of foreboding isn’t helped by being left standing awkwardly at a computer station opposite the bar, trying to catch someone’s attention whilst being surrounded by Hackney stereotypes. It takes at least five minutes which feels like five hours, given that I am standing next to The Face, without the helping hand of alcohol. And the woman on the phone had told me that the more comfortable dining room, upstairs, was closed on a Tuesday, information which turns out to be entirely inaccurate.
Fortunately they find a table upstairs. Our friends arrive and C has to rearrange his features so that he can observe the social niceties he has come to understand are required of him on occasions such as these.
Copious amounts of beer are still required before normal service can be resumed and I am keen to get copious coping-mechanism amounts of wine into my face as soon as is polite.
The menu changes daily so it’s likely that none of this will be there when you go but who knows. They will probably have the Beef And Barley bun and if they do I suggest that you have it, straight away. I recall now trying to persuade a reluctant C to try his quarter and obviously I ignore his resistance and practically force it down his throat. An act of public service, I should have just split it with T and he would have been none the wiser as to the soft yielding bun filled with rich minced beef onion and barley in a gorgeous gravy, mopped up with horseradish cream. It’s like a British Bao.
Can I just go off onto a little plea for horseradish cream and ask you to reconsider it in connection with, say, roast chicken, where it is a combination of pure beauty? I grew up eating something known as chrain, which is a shredded beetroot and horseradish vinegary combo, to be used as a condiment for chicken, chopped and fried fish, even gefilte fish. It sounds disgusting, I appreciate that, but it’s my madelaine moment every time I eat it and trust me, it’s really good.
By the time of the bun, we have already hoovered up the very good Black Treacle Sourdough and whipped butter, sprinkled with sea salt and you will no doubt do the same unless you are one of those people who think you can’t eat gluten, or don’t want to eat carbs. Life is short and you go out to enjoy yourself. People have spent time making that bread. It would be rude not to.
I struggled with the menu, only because I wanted too many of the dishes. My eye drifted towards the word pie. It’s not an obvious choice for an evening in late June, Chicken and Girolles Pie but this is a British summer, the sort where you put your heating on for an hour when you get in, to take the chill off.
But first there was the Peas Mint and Goat’s Curd. Not a groundbreaking combination, granted, but the sort of thing you can’t quite be arsed to make yourself when you get in from work, not with all that pea shelling. But you’d be hard-pressed to make it quite like this version, A plate of plump sweet peas, semi-submerged in a verdant jus, with a large dollop of freshest goat’s curd and strewn with pea shoots, this was a dish I could eat over and over again. Fresh, crunchy, juicy, you could squidge the peas into the curd so they didn’t drop off your fork and wash the whole thing down with some of that pea-juice. I loved this. I know C was enjoying his Tamworth Ham, White Cabbage and Beer Mustard because I could see that there was a shadow of a smile on his face and he was making conversation.
And then there was pie. There are times in life when pie is the answer to everything. There is something about a proper pie which makes everything better and this pie did just that. A generous portion, big enough for three or even four modest eaters, the two of us managed to polish it off without any difficulty. Home-made flaky pastry, an unctuous creamy interior filled with mushrooms and large chunks of moist chicken, this was a superb plateful of comfort.
Because we needed more carbohydrate we also ordered the Fried Potatoes and Burnt Onion Mayonnaise. I last had something similar at Portland and I remember it still. Layer upon layer of thinly-sliced potato, shaped to look like fat chips and deep-fried, crispy around the ages, gooey within, I could die happy if these formed part of my last meal on earth. Let us not forget the mayonnaise, a thing of beauty in its own right.
Brown butter and honey tart is having a moment. I think it’s coming to the end of that moment but I could be mistaken. I hope I am because that would mean that you might not get to try the version here, which is superb and worth the journey across town should you need to do so. The shortest of shortcrust pastry, a just-set creamy interior, halfway between creme brûlée and crème caramel in texture and a honeyed glaze on top. If they ever do a cookbook they need to put in the recipe.
The Marksman looks somewhat unpromising and I’m not sure I’d love the downstairs quite as much but I suggest that you bag yourself a table upstairs and go eat their lovely food. Not a duff dish in sight, this is a kitchen which knows what it is doing and is doing what I like. They even turned off the speaker above our table when we asked, for which, much love. The Marksman. Right on target.