Gastro pubs were once called the British equivalent of tapas by (I believe) Ferran Adrià in the context of a style of cuisine that could become a global phenomenon. In the last 15 years, the impact of gastro pubs has bean felt throughout the country and abroad. We may not talk so much about them these days, but the movement is still going strong. Pubs of all types and sizes now offer some form of ‘enhanced’ cooking, many referring to themselves as gastro pubs despite not really being one in the true sense of the genre. Even at the top end of the restaurant market its impact has been felt in the style of cooking and the ingredients used, and has been noted by the Michelin Guide which has gone so far as to award Michelin stars to some, like Tom Kerridge’s The Hand & Flowers, (Kerridge has two of them).
While The Eagle, Britain’s first gastro pub, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, it was in 2003 that Jonathan Jones, a young protégé of Fergus Henderson, left the kitchen at St John to open The Anchor & Hope on The Cut in Southwark. Its opening raised the level for gastro pubs and put them firmly on the scene as the trend of the moment, and indeed of the next 5 years or so.
While the talk of gastro pubs may have subsided, the name and reputation of The Anchor & Hope continues to burn bright, and deservedly so. Still drawing in foodies from across the city, on my most recent visit, on Mothering Sunday, among the smattering of locally living celebs was Sam Bompas of the adventuring culinary duo, Bompas & Parr.
The food can be described in a word as ‘honest’, or in three words as ‘honest and hearty’. There is nothing frivolous about it; there is no more and no less than exactly what’s needed on the plate. No part of a plant or beets, if edible, is thought unworthy to be served up from the open kitchen next to the bar to the diners seated round bare stripped back tables.
While Sunday sees a two seating lunch service for which reservations are taken, Monday through Saturday tables are allocated on a first come first served basis, with a back up waiting list run, for both lunch and dinner. This, along with the daily changing menu, a chalkboard where the dishes limited by number are scratched off, a daily changing seasonal aperitif, and the cheerful nature of the blue pinstriped apron adorned waiting team, creates a vibrant while relaxed atmosphere that makes it easy to while away an afternoon or evening. The sharing dishes are key to creating this, but don’t worry when I say sharing, I don’t mean tapas style; I mean a dish large enough for multiple people.
The menu may change daily but always follows the same pattern, with a few dishes that almost always appear. There’s always a soup of the day, a terrine, and some form of foie gras to start. The crab on toast makes a frequent appearance, is just as described and is perfection in its quantity and richness against the tangy sourdough. Beets and goat’s curd is a dish that has featured since the early days, as has the globe artichoke with vinaigrette, both peerless dishes. The snail, lardon and crouton salad is a favourite special; the snails are large and tender rather than rubbery and dry, as so often they can be. From the hot smoked eel and celeriac remoulade to the pig’s head pressed terrine, what all starters share is a simplified and stripped back nature that’s about letting the quality of the ingredients shine.
The mains are always a combination of seasonal fish or cuts of meat and vegetables, ranging from dishes for one, to slow cooked one pot roasts to share. Cheap flavourful cuts of meat, like pigs cheek, are the preferred cuts of meat used, and with good reason. That said, there’s frequently some form of beef – usually steak and, on Sunday, roast sirloin or rump. When it comes to fish, great chunks of beautiful cod and trout feature, as does the odd traditional dish like Orkney kippers and tatties. From time to time you’ll even get the chance to have a whole Cornish crab with chips and mayonnaise.
The sharing dishes served up on platters, or perhaps in the Le Creuset pots they are cooked in, are, for me, the epitome of The Anchor & Hope. These serve anywhere from two to seven people, be it rabbit, lamb shoulder or neck, or other large cuts or whole small game. Presented in its braising liquid and veg, it’s an unctuous meal that often comes with some of the best dauphinoise you can hope for. The whole process of pulling the meat off the bone with the giant stainless steal serving spoon and carving fork, and piling your plate high with it, along with the cooking veg, potatoes and sides of buttered hispi cabbage and lentils, is wonderfully communal and convivial.
Fourteen years on and The Anchor & Hope has been a huge success by sticking to what it does best and, in doing so, has been able to open a number of sister restaurants. The food is always flawless and comforting, and it doesn’t hurt that prices haven’t risen much over the years; every dish is under £20 per person, except for the beef and the sharing dishes. It’s proved so popular it’s now introduced a workers lunchtime menu offering one, two or three courses for £17 or less. If you’re one of the few foodies not to have been, it’s about time that you did!