London Larder was devised in 2012 to bring you the ultimate eating and drinking guide to London. It was borne out of a need for up-to-date, quantitative and whole-heartedly recommended places to eat and drink.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Spaniards Inn

Hampstead Heath

The title of 'London's oldest pub' is hotly disputed, but very, very few establishments pre-date the Great Fire of London in 1666. The Spaniards Inn, an old coaching inn on Hampstead Heath is one such pub, having been built in 1585. Back in those days, it was still a two-hour coach ride to London from the Heath before the city sprawled out into the suburbs, so it was perfectly positioned for hungry and tired travellers. It also doubled as a toll-house - in the days before general taxation travellers would have to pay to use the road as they passed.

Today, the building is virtually unchanged on the outside, right down to the road narrowing to a single lane between the pub and the toll house, and it still feeds the hungry and tired, although these days it's more likely to be walkers from the Heath than travellers arriving in a stagecoach. A thoroughly modern gastropub in a very traditional atmosphere. It makes a refreshing change from the overly stylised pubs and identikit bars in town.

The history of The Spaniards Inn is fascinating; a reputed haunt of notorious highwayman Dick Turpin who would rob travellers on what is now Spaniards Road, and also of Romantic poet John Keats, who, according to legend, wrote 'Ode to a Nightingale' in the garden of the Inn. It also features in Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' and Dickens' 'The Pickwick Papers', meaning that when you enter the building, it already feels remarkably familiar. And it's no surprise that the pub has enjoyed such illustrious patronage throughout the ages. It really is a delightful pub with two dining rooms, many snug, private corners and a huge garden, all of which are packed throughout the summer. A fantastic selection of beers shows that they are serious about drinking and a creative menu shows why dinner here has been in demand for over 400 years.

We started our meal with the ham hock terrine and home-made piccalilli, and lamb breast with baby leeks and anchovies. Lamb breast sounded a mysterious cut of meat and left us guessing as to what it would be. We were delighted to be presented with two very light fillets of shredded lamb, fried in a croquette style. A dish that could have been heavy if not prepared properly, but its lightness was ideal for a starter portion. The ham terrine was sublime; very fresh and with very little gelatine. Just how we like it.

This was followed by the house cheeseburger, made with ribeye and chuck beef, is presented medium or well-done, without the option of rare or medium-rare. A thick, rough-hewn burger of real quality with plenty of melted cheese and salad, we would have preferred it a little pinker in the centre, but that's just personal taste. The chips were crisp and plentiful, sinful and delicious. We also tried the fish pie which had a very mild taste, not too strong and topped with mashed potato. Curly kale provided the greens and gave the meal balance.

After two very large courses, were too stuffed to sample the puddings - which includes a very tempting looking crumble - but we did finish our meal by sharing some of the very dark home made truffles. With food this good, it's no surprise that The Spaniards Inn is going strong after over four centuries and we wouldn't be surprised if it was still here serving food and drink of the highest quality four hundred years from now. The perfect combination of history and tradition and modern cuisine, The Spaniards Inn is a real treat and certainly worth visiting. If its good enough for Keats and Dickens, it's good enough for us!

Spaniards Road, NW3 7JJ

Average price of main course: £14
Average price of glass of wine: £6
Food/Drink: 5/5
Value: 4/5
Service: 4/5


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