Monday, 30 September 2019

Loyal Tavern, Bermondsey

Though I would never suggest any restaurant creates anything solely for its Instagram appeal - that way madness lies - it's true (albeit faintly regrettable) that the existence of one or two talking-point dishes, able to make the rounds on social media in opening week, is a good way of getting your PR campaign off to a flying start. At the Loyal Tavern, Tom Cenci's expertly-pitched and supremely enjoyable new bistro in Bermondsey, there's an item towards the top of the menu that immediately catches the eye.

"Chicken skin crackling, hot sauce, blue cheese dressing.... £3". True, the rest of the menu reads pretty bloody well as well, with lovely things like slow-cooked pigs cheeks and gurnard in crab bisque being offered for really quite reasonable amounts of money, but it's that chicken skin crackling that will first grab your attention, and will almost certainly (unless you're vegetarian, or mad) be the first thing you order.

And you absolutely should, because it's brilliant. The crackling itself is neither too greasy or too hard, but in a perfect sweet spot that dissolved gracefully in the mouth, releasing a powerful chicken flavour which stood up very well to the hot sauce (Frank's?) they were doused in, and a light scattering of - of all things - chopped dill on top added a lovely herby note. The dip beneath was thick, cooling and creamy, with enough blue cheese for you to notice it but not enough to be unpleasantly salty or funky. This £3 snack is, essentially, one of London's best buffalo wings, without really being a buffalo wing at all.

I appear to have written three paragraphs on a £3 bar snack. Sorry, these things happen when I get carried away. You should know there are plenty of other things to get excited about on the Loyal Tavern menu. Like this grilled flatbread, baked to order, which comes with what the menu said was "chicken fat butter" but looked a lot like crumbled chicken skin to me (and is absolutely none the worse for that).

And don't forget the bar offering, which is as mature and elegant as anywhere in town. This is a basil daquiri - simple, beautiful, dangerously easy to drink.

Some dishes, I'm sure Tom won't mind me saying, are related to the kind of thing Duck and Waffle were turning out, although I don't remember their grilled mackerel ever being as soft and crunchy and moreish as this. Topped with a layer of pickled apples draped over confidently charred skin, they were great fun, and looked - and tasted - like they should cost a lot more than £5.50. For all its undoubted pleasures, Duck & Waffle was never what you'd call great value.

Venison tartare, thickly chopped and nicely seasoned, came topped with sprout leaves full of miso mayo, a clever little touch which not only added crunch but an interesting extra umami hit. Attractive looking thing, too, isn't it?

Main courses were, if I'm going to be absolutely brutal (and I imagine that's why you're here in the first place), slightly less impressive than the starters and snacks, but still immensely enjoyable in a rustic kind of way. My lamb - pink, juicy, with a good fatty crust and perfectly seasoned, came on a bed of marrowfat peas and a lot of creamy mustard dressing, the texture of which was a little lumpy thanks to rogue bits of pea but had a nice flavour.

And buttermilk-poached cod looked a little unsettling, but was beautifully cooked to ever-so-slightly-under, and the nduja and white bean stew had bags of Mediterranean flavour. Also, £15 for a lot of cod. I realise mentioning the prices in the first couple of weeks of a new opening is asking for trouble, but I have to assume for the purposes of a review that they're at least vaguely indicative of how they're going to stay. Even if they clocked up by a quid or two each in a month or two, we're still talking about a fairly lower-to-mid-range budget.

I'm hoping that these Stinking Bishop fondant potatoes find a permanent place on the menu - they were a chalkboard special on the night I visited - because they deserve one. I should have taken a video of my cutting through the crisp, golden brown exterior to release the gooey melted cheese inside, but I'm afraid I was too busy salivating, so you'll have to imagine just how great they were. Or, you know, go to the Loyal Tavern and order them yourself, quick smart.

There were also desserts. Pistachio ice cream was silky-smooth, and the macerated cherries packed a punch. Less successful was a banana bread, which seemed a bit dry and had pointlessly been scattered with rock-hard raw coffee beans, but it hardly spoiled the evening. From the buffalo chicken skins onwards, and for most of the rest of it, Loyal Tavern was a blast.

It always miffs me as a Battersea resident that a few neighbourhoods - Bermondsey, Camberwell, Tooting - seem to have a huge and varied selection of great places on their doorstep and it's taken my local, the Fox & Hounds (on Latchmere Road) 15 years to learn how to make triple-cooked chips. I try not to take it personally, but guys - Bermondsey did not need Loyal Tavern. It has Pizarro and José and Casse Croute and Flour & Grape already, and all these places are by themselves a reason to stay on the 188 bus from Holborn. But OK, fine, well done you, and yes, I suppose I will have to get used to travelling, for those fondant potatoes, for a cosy booth in this extraordinarily well-designed and welcoming room, and most importantly - of course - for those buffalo chicken skins. I'd travel to the moon and back for those.


I was invited to Loyal Tavern and didn't see a bill.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Try 40 Matlby Street mate