Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Holly Bush

A perfect traditional pub, oozing with character and serving up some of the best pub food around.

This place is no secret to London’s weathered pub-lovers. It is likely in the top-5 list for any London pub connoisseur worth his/her salt. From all angles, in all weather, all times of the year, it is a story book pub. No matter which way you approach it, whether from the Heath or from Hampstead centre, you walk through some of the nicest parts of this historical little section of London. And there it lies, in an unlikely residential area, on a street too small for any traffic to have traveled on it for many years.

I made the mistake of going on a Sunday. It was pissing down rain, and I thought we were early with a 1pm meeting time, but who was I kidding, it was already packed to the gills. I’d say you should avoid Sundays, but how could I suggest something so ridiculous, this place was built for the Sunday pub lunch… into afternoon… into evening… into closing.

It’s tough to get any more traditional than this place. Rustic wood throughout, fireplaces, tables crammed in everywhere, and neat little nooks around every corner. After waiting for about an hour over some fine bitters (Adnams Broadside, excellent choice) and lagers, and fighting hard for a table, we finally secured a nice spot in the back corner. It wasn’t easy, but once you get the table, it is worth the effort and you can stay all day long.

We went mainly for the food, all planning on a hearty Sunday lunch to fill our bellies on the cold, rainy, and miserable day we escaped when we walked in the door. Looking at the menu, I knew I was in luck. I saw roasts and pies, all sounding a bit gourmet, and I knew I was going to get exactly what I came for.

We ordered a range of the dishes, I went for the lamb shank with roasted veg and cheddar mash. Wow! The meat slid right off the bone, perfectly cooked, and the mash had just the right amount of mature cheddar to zing the taste buds. We started with some prawns which were excellent, and I had plenty of nibbles of my wife’s salmon and smoked haddock pie, wow again! The pie was flavourful, topped with spinach, and hearty. We finished with a cheese plate, which none of us needed, but had some stinky bishop on it, which is a personal favourite and impossible to pass up. Much (possibly all) of the food on the menu is organic, and the only disappointment at our table was some unripe pears in the goat cheese salad… but then again, this place shouldn’t be judged by its goat cheese salad (dumb choice). In fact, it would be near impossible for anyone to con themselves into a healthy and light option with all the delicious, large, and filling dishes popping out of the kitchen and being devoured by satisfied customers. On value, the price is well-worth it, £11.50 for the lamb shank £9.50 for the pies.

We relaxed, had some pints, stuffed ourselves silly, and barely made it out of there alive. Had I not made it out alive, I would have happily entered the after life with that as my last supper. It was an excellent meal, a perfect Sunday in from the cold weather, and something I should do more often…


Expectation: Solid square meal
: 5 out of 5

: Drinking

: Beer

: 4 out of 5
- Good selection (guest ales, Adnams, lagers, Leffe) but missing a Weiss beer which would have been nice.

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