Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Vine: Big Friendly Gastropub (BFG)

Six months ago there were demolition signs tacked onto wire fencing around the Vine. Stood at the grotty end of Kentish Town, far away from the teeming millions of Camden, it seemed inevitable that a clean-cut gastropub would struggle.

How wrong I was. Behind the wire fence and safety helmet signs it was being reborn with leather corner settees, fake crystal chandeliers and as much wood and bare brick as is structurally sound. It also boasts a comfy seated outside area, complete with European-style cafe umbrellas. As we sat and supped our rioja and watched the sun set, even the road that passes just ten feet away seemed silent and distant.

The backroom dining area is a huge, high-ceiling cylinder. It reminded me of the scene where the BFG dines with the Queen, shovelling whole plates of bacon and eggs into his mouth. The effect is an airy atmosphere, emphasised by the fact that the restaurant was nigh-on empty, that falls just the right side of modern gastropub design. In an attempt at tradition, the wine list was written on a blackboard. It was not exactly extensive, but hopefully being in chalk means it is changed regularly. Our Rioja Muscat got rather heavy after two bottles, but it is a compliment that we got that far.

The starter of grilled mussels with garlic, Parmesan and more garlic was delicious, and ensured that my companion and I were left alone for the rest of the meal. In fact, even while sharing the pudding I got the odd wave of garlic, which did little to improve the sticky toffee pudding.

The flavours of the main course were strong enough to hold back the starter though – my perfectly cooked salmon had a gorgeous crispy skin, although the tomatoes in the rocket salad were slightly under-ripe and, horror of horrors, a little too cold compared with the hot salmon.

These flaws are more than forgiveable at pub prices. Sadly, The Vine does not seem to believe in pub prices. Your classic steak will cost you £18.50, a salad at least a tenner, and anything in between ... well ... in between. At these prices you expect a level of perfection above what we experienced, even if the concept of the dishes were spot on.

Say what you will of gastropubs. They lack a little soul, try to be flashy and get caught between a good boozer and an average restaurant, both in price and outlook. But anywhere can be saved with a decent chef, something the Vine absolutely has. Close enough to a restaurant to be worth booking, and not too classy to ignore pub favourites like fish and chips, just accept your Goldfish card will take a battering and enjoy it.

86 Highgate Road, London NW5 1PB
0207 2090038

Vine on Urbanspoon   Square Meal

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