The Anchor and Hope has a lot of good things going for it, but the seating arrangements aren't one of them. There's a no booking policy, so the best places are dealt out on a first-come first-served basis. This means that if you are a couple there's a very good chance that after one of the two (!) tables for two are taken you will be sat antisocially close to good number of complete strangers on a large table by the kitchen while the waiting staff and diners on their way to the toilets periodically elbow you in the back of the head. This is the second time this year I've tried to eat at the Anchor & Hope; last time we could only stand the physical assault for five minutes - just long enough to try the bread and butter - then gave up and scurried off into the night. Still, free bread, can't complain.
This time, things went a great deal better. We had a nice quiet table for two in the corner, the back of our heads remained mercifully elbow-free throughout the evening, and most importantly we felt comfortable enough to stay long enough to sample the food, which turned out to be very good indeed. Just look at this menu:
Snails, tripe, quince, pheasant, partridge, hazelnuts, chestnuts and beetroot. It's a foodie's wet dream of perfectly pitched seasonal dishes, the odd eyebrow-raising unusual ingredient and heartwarming wintery goodness. It's the kind of food that wraps you up in a nice blanket in front of the fire when it's snowy outside. I wanted to try literally everything on this menu, and by the end of the evening it almost felt like I had, but in the end plumped for the pot-roast partridge with cabbage, bacon and chestnuts.
Truth be told the meat on the partridge was a little dry, but the surrounding broth was comforting, and the flavour of the caramelised onions and bacon strong and satisfying. With plenty of stock to smother the partridge meat this plate of food disappeared very quickly. The kind of thing I could eat every day as it felt incredibly hearty and healthy as well as tasty, partridge meat being pretty lean. This could not be said of a companion's lamb and beans dish, which was thick with cream but just as tasty.
Next I ordered the buttermilk pudding, which turned out to be an Anglicised panacotta with an accompaniment of sweet oranges, heady with alcohol. There were quite a few pips in the orange which I suppose would put some people off but I thought it added to the rustic charm of the dish. The buttermilk itself was just right - fluffy and not too sweet. However although tasty a companion's "Flourless chocolate cake" was incredibly dense and it was a bit of a struggle to get through it. Perhaps it was missing an ingredient... something that would lighten it a bit... oh yes, flour.
I know from experience we were lucky to get a comfortable corner table, and a majority of diners here will have to put up with a rather less than perfect environment to eat their food. But if this is the business model at the Anchor and Hope then good luck to them - it's clearly a very successful one, and goes to show that for many Londoners the environment comes secondary to the food. And quite right too.