In which Philip King, 1st King of Streatham is reunited with an old Earl.
Many many moons ago, far far back in the distant past in the year of our Lord 1992, I ventured up to The King’s Road, Chelsea, with a crumpled tenner in my student duffle jacket pocket and high hopes of achieving a pleasant level of inebriation, perchance to impress one of the many damsels I had spotted earlier in the day as they shopped for designer threads amongst the many boutiques in this highly fashionable district. My partner in crime was a dashing fellow inebriate, and together we headed straight for a tavern by the name of The Cadogan Arms, as it had a right regal ring to it, what with having been a tavern since 1869 and named after the first Earl of Cadogan. Faded, jaded décor featured crimson flock wallpaper, wonky wall mounted lampshades with velveteen trim and plump little tassles, scrappy printed portraits of huntsmen and women on horseback gallivanting over hills and dales. It was very much of its time, in that the renaissance of pubs bars and restaurants had yet to take hold of London. To experience walking to the bar was akin to experiencing being a fly glued to fly paper as one’s feet stuck to the floor; meanwhile everything had a habit of creaking as though on the film set of a Hammer horror movie, but we didn’t care because the booze was cheap and the bands and the beat-up juke box made a vaguely pleasing racket as I recall.
Suffice it to say, this has all changed dramatically now, since the site was taken over and renovated some time ago by the same brains behind The Jugged Hare, a praiseworthy establishment over Barbican way. Whopping windows now provide a vista onto the ever busy King’s Road. Inside, the scheme evokes a sort of highland refectory, with woodiness abounding, a curious assortment of huntsman’s spoils adorning the walls and overall there is a feeling of everything being pared back. It’s unfussy, yet with enough touches to make it quaint and quirky. I took a pint of Jugged Hare IPA, brewed especially for the group by some indie craft ale brewery. It was delicious. Hoppy, aromatic, tangy and smooth, served at the perfect temperature. La Femme had one of the various guest gins on offer, which was served with a slice of orange to match the botanicals and she beamed graciously at the bouquet.
The seasonal menu had some great choices and daily specials were also intriguing. I wanted to try the very first of the new season’s black headed gull’s egg, but in the end my penchant for merguez got the vote and gin-head took on braised lamb’s belly, glazed ribs, monk’s beard and pomegranate. I was dubious about the appearance of pomegranate in this dish but intrigued to see how it might work. The verdict on the slider was that it was a bloody marvel, a real treat. Caviar had that almost ethereal t, deliciously salty and slimy, well, it’s true! Caviar is slimy, but that’s ok because it tastes great and was balanced by the crisp crunch of breaded oyster and herbaceous monk’s beard. The lamb’s belly was less brilliant though; whilst presentation was great and the concept read well on the page, I found the lamb somewhat fluffy (funny that) and the overall flavour relatively bland, which is to say it was not unpleasant, but unremarkable.
Mains were Grilled Cornish mackerel with butterbean cassoulet, chorizo, monk’s beard, charred cucumber and black olive crumb; also roast Iberico pork shoulder, almond purée, pickled plums and pork jus. Anybody will agree simply from reading those descriptions that both dishes sound very promising. I’m a huge fan of mackerel and always have been. The preparation and list of ingredients read well, and as for Iberico pork shoulder, I’d had (uncured) Iberico pork for the first time in Granada in August last year and was bowled over by the taste and texture so this excited me very much. Both dishes lived up to the hype, the pork shoulder perhaps more so than the mackerel as the tenderness and richness of the meat was quite sublime. Quite what inspired the chef to add plum to this dish I have no idea, but we were glad of it, as the resulting flavours were entirely satisfactory. Black olive crumb was the magic flourish that brought all the other constituent ingredients together with the mackerel, although the fish itself wasn’t bursting with flavour as mackerel usually does. Perhaps this has to do with the time of the year (I understand mackerel fishing season runs from June to September). Nonetheless it was a pleasing dish. Overall, presentation was well thought out, although the slider sat on a bed of rock salt that stuck to the ingredients as it fell apart which made it a bit messy.
Dessert wise, being quite full by this point. we opted to share home made ice cream as the flavours were so intriguing, choosing burnt honey and thyme, and salted caramel, accompanied by two fantastic dessert cocktails: A Popcorn Demode consisting of Popcorn infused Bullet Bourbon, Luxardo, Maraschino and Peychaud’s bitters. It was glorious, and reminded me of an amber sucking-sweet we had as kids called Spangles, crossed with an Old Fashioned. I was in heaven. Blondie took a tequila espresso martini made with Herradura Plata, Kahlua, espresso, pear, vanilla and Aztec chocolate bitters, and yes, it tastes every bit as sublime as it sounds. The Aussie chap who manages the bar and the floor has turned it around, and I can honestly say that it’s worth paying a trip here even if you don’t eat, just to savour some of this spirit-fuelled wizardry. The flavours and creativity presented in the cocktail list that was written to compliment their dessert menu, are truly remarkable. All in all, The Cadogan of today is a far, far cry from the Cadogan of yesteryear and all the better for it.