It's not like me to do these little "featurettes", but I've found it increasingly irritating that most of the top-rated gastropubs in London (The White Swan, The Ebury, etc.) are actually not gastropubs at all. A true gastropub should ideally be no-tablecloths, order-at-the-bar, daily-changing-menu and very-rickety-chairs. It should be the kind of place that you should feel equally at home popping in for a pint of lager as a full sit-down meal. If you get silver cutlery, reservations, full table service and a separate dining room upstairs from the bar, well then that's not a gastropub, that's a restaurant. And the distinction is important because the name gastropub makes certain promises to the customer - that the food will be fresh and reasonably priced, the service informal and the surroundings rustic. The gastropub is on its way to becoming a great British institution, so lets celebrate this fact rather than rewarding only those establishments that keep the fine dining crowd happy.
5 - The Cow, 89 Westbourne Park Road, Kensington
A boistrous and characterful place, where you can suck back a dozen oysters with a pint of Guinness whilst watching the footie. That is if you can get a table - it's usually completely rammed in the evening, and only the boring restaurant bit upstairs accepts reservations. However if you're unfortunate enough to live in this otherwise deathly dull area of West London, then you're probably counting your lucky stars The Cow exists at all. So long may it continue.
4 - 32 Great Queen Street, Holborn
Despite my soapboxing above, this isn't actually technically a gastropub - more of a bistro really - but it conforms to the same informal style so I have included it. Lovely fresh produce, pleasant surroundings, and - the deal-breaker - little glass beakers instead of wineglasses. It's in the middle of bloody nowhere foodie-wise, but worth the effort to reach it.
3 - The Eagle, Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell
The original, and considered by many to still be the best, The Eagle is about as rustic as you can get without being actually painful. Noisy and cramped, and until recently (hooray!) eye-wateringly smokey, the Eagle is a spit-and-sawdust old man's pub serving very tasty british-influenced food. The open kitchen always provides great entertainment, but my only gripe is that sometimes the menu can be rather limited.
2 - The Fox and Hounds, Battersea
In terms of sheer consistency, the F&H is second to none. After two years living in Battersea, and over 50 visits, I think I've had a disappointing meal only twice. The food is mediterranean in style, so no burgers and chips here, but is always very fresh and served incredibly efficiently. The wine list is short and New World-based but is interesting enough, however it's the food that's the real star here. Expect herb-baked fresh fish, tuscan sausages with polenta, and various lamb and chicken stews. The cheeseboard is from Hamish Johnston too, which as any South Londoner knows is the finest cheese shop in the world. The beer garden out the back is also exquisitely pretty. Just go.
1 - The Anchor and Hope, Waterloo
I was seriously considering making the Fox & Hounds my number 1, but in the end I had to recognise that the cooking at the Anchor & Hope is generally of a higher standard and is as inventive as anywhere you're likely to find in this country. Specialities may include whole roast slow-cooked leg of lamb, or a cassoulet for four people. It's mediterranean (French) influenced, but they're not averse to the odd portion of chips either, so that's nice. It is unfortunately often a victim of its own success, and as you can't reserve you're just as likely to be perched on the end of another party's table as you are to get one of your own. But you will put up with the cramped room and the impersonal seating arrangements for the glorious food, which has never been anything less than top-notch.