Historic London – The Spaniards Inn:
A pretty white clapboard building, the Spaniards Inn sits in the middle of Hampstead Heath at a point in the road where it narrows, so we are told, to ensure that tolls for crossing could be collected. Built as a tollhouse inn around 1585 the Spaniards Inn is the perfect example of an historic English pub. There are literary connections, it features in the Pickwick Papers and Dracula and amongst its eminent customers were Joshua Reynolds, Byron and Keats. And there are macabre links to highwaymen, including Jack Turpin, who reputedly loitered around the toll where travellers would be forced to slow their journey. So, there was at one time a hangman’s tree a few yards down the road, although that has long since gone. The well laid out beer garden must be splendid in summer – and, where else would you find a dog-wash? Now the muddy pawed, Heath-grubbied pooches of Hampstead can have a wash and blowdry before returning home complete with the handmade dog-snacks that are sold at the bar!
The downstairs bar is a cosy maze of rooms with open fires.
Upstairs the recently refurbished panelled dining room has a slightly more formal feel but nothing that wouldn’t work for a hungry walker fresh from rambling across the Heath. Our host, manager Olivier Jolly took us there so that we could mess around with cameras without disturbing the other diners. And the food really did warrant spending time over.
There are two menus; one for the pub and one for ‘dining’, although there are many commonalities, the former includes a cheeseburger and beer battered haddock while the latter has a few intriguing sounding dining options, including char-grilled cuttlefish with peas, mint and lardons and crispy slow cooked lamb breast with baby leeks, anchovy and vinaigrette. And, all the dishes are matched with beers! Now, I am really not a beer drinker, but my dining companion cheerfully decided that he should order the matching beers for my dishes as well as his own. In the interest of research of course.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed a glass of perla delicata prosecco with my starter of scallops, black pudding and sweetcorn puree. I was hesitant about the idea of sweetcorn puree, it’s a taste which can be rather overwhelming, but in this case it was light and barely noticeable. The scallops themselves were plump and immaculately caramelised, served on little rounds of melting black pudding in a puddle of lemony sweetcorn.
My companion’s Scotch egg was, so we were told, a house speciality. The perfectly cooked egg was wrapped in haggis rather than sausage meat, making a lighter and appropriately Scottish egg. He did seem to enjoy the matched beer, Redemption Urban Dusk.
I chose the Spanish influenced sea bass with chickpeas, chorizo and cuttlefish for my main course. Very tasty, I could have eaten the chickpea mixture by itself, though I loved the flakey crisp skinned sea bass too. I’ve had this dish made with Hake, which I think I prefer as a fish option, for me the sea bass is just a little delicate. Had I chosen to eat downstairs, my companion would have enjoyed a matching Camden Town Hells, but as it was, the dining room serves a Karmeliet Triple (which I sipped and liked, though not enough to drink a whole bottle!)
Pork belly confit, with shallot puree and heritage carrots looked almost good enough to tempt me to steal. But it was guarded closely and demolished with a glass of Meantime pale ale.
Oh, and we had a mac and cheese as a side order, totally unnecessary but worth trying – and something would make a meal in itself too.
Dessert for me was a wickedly indulgent brandy bread and butter pudding with ice-cream. And, in keeping with the history of the place, I enjoyed a glass of sloe gin. The crème caramel ordered by my friend arrived with delicate lavender shortbread biscuits which vanished in a moment!
Starters here range from £5.00 up to £15 for a sharing meat board of Trealy farm cured meats. Mains are between £12 and £22. Food is UK sourced where possible and the kitchen focuses on a British menu with Continental influences. Downstairs, in addition to the bar menu there are snacks. And, as you’d expect from a pub with a beer matching menu there’s a really wide range of beers and ciders on offer, matched with both taste and a sense of humour (the Cheeseburger comes with ‘Brooklyn lager’).
This is somewhere to enjoy lunch when you have a lazy afternoon ahead, or to spend an evening after you’ve tired yourself out walking on the Heath. Perfectly English, comfortable and relaxed. Weekends, according to the Manager, are their busiest time – hardly suprising given the great food and wonderful location.
The Spaniards Inn
London, NW3 7JJ