Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Four Legs at the Compton Arms, Islington


The movie critic Mark Kermode says a feature of any good-but-imperfect movie is that once the story and characters start to grip you, the flaws, such as they are, fade into irrelevance. Much the same can be applied to restaurants. You can be annoyed by an arcane booking process, disappointed in your allocated table, put off by the prices, but if the food is good, and the service compliments it, you'll be planning a return trip before you've finished your starters.

But that's only if the food is good. If it isn't, all of those flaws, instead of fading away, become all you can see about a place. It's not like Four Legs at the Compton Arms is a terrible restaurant - objectively it isn't, and some dishes were very nice - but in the end, they didn't do enough to distract from the reality of eating in a dark, noisy, hugely oversubscribed pub in Islington, and I can't really say I enjoyed much about the evening.


Things started promisingly enough. Rock oysters came with a "hot sauce" which was more a kind of chilli oil but which worked very well - I'm a big fan of oyster and chilli, and as long as you have nice fresh oysters there's not much you can do to mess it up.


Also decent was a bowl of cockles and clams, which didn't really need the cubes of bone marrow dotted about but still impressed with a nice lemon/butter sauce that mopped up extremely well with the house bread.


But that was where the good times ended. The biggest disappointment of the evening was the cheeseburger, which supposedly used Dexter beef but still tasted of nothing but warm grease, perhaps because they'd overcooked the two thin patties to grey. They'd used two types of cheese - traditional American processed and some kind of cheddar I think - but they didn't really work with each other and the cheddar-a-like was already solid and chalky by the time it had arrived on the table. The bun was fairly devoid of personality but did at least hold together, which is something, but there were no chips available, and I think if you're selling a burger you need to offer chips. so we attemped to fill the spot with a portion of "fried new potatoes", which were "fried" insofar as they were quite greasy but had no texture or crunch to speak of, and the aioli dumped on top burned with way too much garlic. The burger actually only cost £11 but just served to prove that if the product is subpar, no price point becomes a bargain.


Pollock is a cheap fish, and will never have the taste or texture of cod or haddock, but still deserved a better treatment than this, a bizarre presentation that involved a vaguely currified spinach and pea slop and a clumsy seasoned flatbread. There was actually something faintly enjoyable about the spinach slop, despite it being swimming in oil, but the fish was mealy and dry, and the flatbread - sorry, "fried pizza dough" - was a chore.


All of which would have been distressing enough had it not been served in a tiny, noisy, dark room (hence the terrible photos) on table way too close to the bar, meaning I was eating much of my dinner with my face level with some Islingtonite's arse. To be fair, the other dining space at the back looked a little more bearable, so maybe we were just unlucky, but I do think some places should just find a way of being happy as a bar rather than trying to climb aboard the gastropub bandwagon. Or maybe I'm just getting old and have very little patience for eating overcooked burgers in the dark. More likely that, really.


Anyway, onwards and upwards. Despite the odd Compton Arms-shaped blip I've eaten pretty well in the last few weeks, so I'm not about to extrapolate one disappointing evening into wider point about London dining. I didn't like Four Legs, and that's that, no harm done and no need to dwell. There's far more exciting places to write about. Watch this space.

6/10

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