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23/07/2009

The Anchor & Hope, Southwark, London [Review]

The Anchor & Hope

★★☆☆☆


People who fancy themselves restaurant experts tend to bang on about The Anchor & Hope. ‘Have you been to The Anchor & Hope?’ they meaningfully demand of anyone who claims to enjoy eating out. Nope. ‘Oh, but you must. You really, really must.’ They make it sound like a recommendation, a friendly piece of advice. But make no mistake: The Anchor & Hope is one of the yardsticks by which the food Nazis assess you. You don’t measure up if you haven’t been - so I got myself down there quicker than quick.

It’s a gastropub. And almost without exception, gastropubs are awful. Flailing, calculated defences against squeezing margins and bogofing supermarkets. Nothing to do with hospitality. Pubs were built to serve nothing more complex than a communal ashtray of Bombay Mix. So all that skimped, flimsy catering equipment set up in hastily-revamped, rat-filled basements, in dirty old loos, upstairs broomcupboards and beer-garden sheds, those menus jotted down on beermats: it’s a slapdash skin-graft pubs are far better without. No wonder the food is always terrible. Sticking gastro- onto a nice old -pub is like putting a plastic strap on a Rolex.

When I began learning to drink – and it’s something I’ve learned rather well – ‘salmon steak on a bed of rice’, hormone-and-gristle burgers, and ‘Medditterranean vegetable tart’ were just appearing on pub menus, as welcome and appropriate as a stag-night hooker at the wedding. In spawning the gastropub, we jettisoned one of the core, not-just-for-tourists things that defined us as a nation – for rubbery mussels and tapeworm spaghetti. Saddest of all, at the precise moment the inklings of a British culinary revival seemed to be taking place, publicans shunned the very food that would have best suited their premises and their customers. When was the last time you saw steak and kidney pudding on a pub menu? And what about ‘Thai green curry’?

Admittedly, the menu at The Anchor & Hope is better. The restaurant is in the same lonely slump of Southwark as The Wine Theatre (closing soon, we hope, to boos and chucked tomatoes). Its space is markedly depressing – dark and dour as bracken; so we sat outside. This is another of St. John’s progeny, but without the austere charm and self-assured invention of the parent.

‘Gazpacho’ looks like an enthusiastic toddler picked up handfuls of stuff lying around the kitchen and dumped them over the soup. How the hell are you supposed to eat it? Croutons, egg, onions, parsley and worst of all… two bloody great ice cubes melting in the middle. The soup itself, which has too much chilli, is utterly overpowered by bitter onion and grassy parsley. It's barely an acceptable example of this great dish, and certainly no better than the one I had at Gallery Mess a couple of weeks ago.

‘Middlewhite tonnato’ is a porky reworking of the pan-Italian dish of veal with a sauce of what Elizabeth David always called tunny fish. It’s good, with acid little capers and a peppery afro of rocket. Ox heart is like chewing the face off a platypus. The meat has the texture and flavour of a well-used fly-swat. Nor is there any sign of the promised pickled walnuts.

Most grim is the priciest dish on the menu: roast pigeon with foie gras. It’s a tough and monstrous old bird, like Ann Widdecombe, and the runner beans are stringy as a harp. But these are simply ambrosia compared to the foie gras. It looks like something a woolly mammoth might cough up, or a jellyfish might menstruate. It leaches in unspeakable, sinewy globules over the pigeon, smothering all trace of flavour and texture. It’s probably the worst presentation of foie gras I’ve ever had, and it renders the dish emphatically inedible.

Puddings – thank God – are better, and hold the one delight of the meal. An elderflower jelly is perfect, one of the best things I’ve eaten this year. I’ve always loved the dew-wet, Shropshire scent of the flowers, sealed and settled by jelly. A little whipped cream and some gently poached gooseberries bring lingering, languorous flavours of summer. There’s also a tayberry ripple ice cream, which is a nice idea, although I’ve always found the tayberry the least impressive of Scotland’s soft fruits. Finally, a buttermilk pudding, which resembles a mammary implant and which tastes of gelatine-set bulimia.

The original chef of the Anchor & Hope has apparently jumped ship, and I imagine the current rudderless feel to the place will have something to do with that. This is a restaurant steered by faltering experience, propelled by the winds of reputation towards the jagged rocks of fiscal reality, with the monsters of competition thrashing beneath. It would do better to raise its anchor and set its hope on returning to its home shipyard – it would be better, in fact, as a pub.


The Anchor & Hope, 36 The Cut, London SE1
Tel. +44 (0)871 0757279

See on the Map

Lunch for two, excluding drinks and service, costs about £50

I can’t find a website for the Anchor & Hope. If you know of one, please let me know in the comments. Thanks.

All pictures mine except the exterior shot, which I found here.

Anchor & Hope on Urbanspoon


Edit: I changed the link to the exterior photo based on the comment below from Ewan of Pubology.

25 comments:

  1. Great article. I always intended to go because every serious foodie told me I should and I have no mind of my own. However, I visited one evening for pints only and saw that the dining area was very crowded, noisy and above all stiflingly hot, so that put me off even before I read about your experience with the food.

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  2. Funny! I am going tonight - your post has left me with feelings of trepedation!

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  3. I rather enjoyed my food the one time I visited, but I was eating by myself at the bar during a downpour, and was glad to get something tasty in me (also, it was a very cheesy pie, and you can't really get those wrong, can you?).

    Incidentally, it's my photo that you've used for the exterior (the link should be to here), and the only website I could find was the one for the brewer which owns the pub (Charles Wells), but as websites go it's hardly of any use at all.

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  4. What a shame, I had no idea it had gone so downhill. We last ate there about a year ago and the food was still very good, I hope they sort things out soon.

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  5. I loved the Anchor and Hope and I recommend it all the time!

    What do I know...

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  6. I have not been to the Anchor and Hope for a couple of weeks but have always found it to be excellent along with it's sister Restaurant Great Queen St.

    I do prefer it in winter though as their slow cooked roasts and stews are really superb. I have had the best ever Cassoulet outside France here and marvelous stewed Ox Cheek with dumplings not to mention the best ever Bakewell Tart.

    I guess it's down to individual taste - after all I still consider L'Ambroiserie to be one of the best Restaurants in the world with charming staff :-)

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  7. Haha this review didn't arf make me giggle! Do you really hanker for the days when cornish pasties were kept lukewarm in a dilapidated 'Pukka Pies' cabinet on the corner of the bar though?

    Beware the food Nazis soon to be hammering down your door!

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  8. I recognised that photo as one of Ewan's straight away. It even has me in it!

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  9. "Ox heart is like chewing the face off a platypus. The meat has the texture and flavour of a well-used fly-swat" Everything after that was hard to read because I was laughing so much. Out loud.

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  10. Controversial review Oliver. I haven't tried the Anchor and Hope but know how revered it is in foodie circles. I have to agree about the Pigeon and Foie Gras dish.....its the stuff of nightmares - maybe the Chapman Brothers, Jake and Dinos should be recreating this for their next piece.
    Saying all that - I'll still need to give it a go when I'm over that way....

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  11. King - It's not a brilliant dining room, no. Perhaps it's a bit better in winter, as Gastro1 says.

    Gourmet Chick - Strange coincidence! Hope you had a better time than me.

    Ewan - Sorry about this mistake - I've put an amendment in the review now. How strange they don't have a website.

    Ginger - I'm half-tempted to to give it another shot. But The Harwood Arms, where I've eaten three or four times, has never really let me down, and its food is miles better than here.

    Lizzie - I still respect your advice!

    Gastro1 - Haha! Well, l'Ambroisie is, er, a law unto itself. I'll aim to revisit the A & C in winter, then.

    Food Urchin - Thanks! Don't know about Pukka Pies, but anything much more than a cheese toastie is generally terrible.

    Kake - Well spotted!

    Helen - Thanks so much :)

    Dan - The pigeon dish would probably have been fine without the foie gras. Less would have been far more. You should definitely see for yourself though - will look forward to the review.

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  12. I've never been to the A&H, but the two times I've been to Great Queen Street were underwhelming, so I can't say I was anxious to try out Anchor & Hope. Now that I've read your review of A&H, I'm even less likely to try it out.

    Also, I cringed when you used the word "menstruate." I can't see that word coming up often in restaurant reviews, so good job being memorable, but ew.

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  13. Interesting review, this is my local pub and I eat here often, find it generally faultless and good value, but then never traveled to get there, which I think skews the perception. People seem to appreciate the anchor in inverse proportion to how far they've crossed London to get there. Two points of fact: the place is totally independent, not owned by Charles Wells as stated, but in large part by its head chef, who has not "jumped ship". And yeah, they don't have a website.
    Dan

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  14. I have drunk at the A&H often enough – once drunkenly berating the barman for serving me wine in a piddly little tumbler, although I've had to get used to that as it is far more commonplace nowadays – but have never managed to squeeze into the regularly overcrowded dining room.

    Your meal certainly sounds a bit hit-and-miss. My experiences at sister/cousin/whatever restaurants Great Queen Street and Magdalen have been fairly good on the whole – particularly at the former, where a pigeon and foie gras pasty was a superb concoction, unlike your plate of similar ingredients.

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  15. RWAppleWannabe - Sorry about making you cringe!

    Dan - Thanks for commenting. I think you're right - if a restaurant is round the corner you settle for less, so to speak.

    I'd thought that the current chef wasn't the original one who started the restaurant - if I got that wrong, then I'm sorry. Though they should still have a website.

    Mr Teaspoon - Ah, yes, the piddly tumbler. What's with them?

    'Hit and miss' seems a pretty good description of most people's meals here. If Gastro1 really had his best cassoulet outside France at the A&H then it must be doing something right. I've heard similar mixed stories about GQS, too - although I had a decent meal at Magdalen last year. Thanks for commenting.

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  16. Typically acerbic, witty and pitch perfect review Oli. Course I haven't actually been there so i can't tell if it's really gone that far off track. Will mention tot eh food nazis next time i see them

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  17. Not all gastro's are awful, as your review of the Harwood Arms testifies.

    Also, I think wearing a plastic strap with a rolex is cool because it suggests you don't care about how much it costs - rather like people who drive their ferrari to a shoot and drive it off road.

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  18. Dan - Thanks a lot. Be sure you do - they're everywhere.

    Anonymous - Thanks for commenting. As I think I said in my review of The Harwood Arms, it's not really a gastropub. It's pretty high-end food - Williams was at The Ledbury, after all - that happens to be served in a pub.

    Putting a plastic strap on a Rolex or mucking up a sports car just in order to show everyone how rich you are: it seems pretty vulgar and ostentatious to me. Thanks again.

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  19. What a shame. I've been a few times and haven't had a bad meal. They have all been tremendous and full of little surprises backed up by very well cooked food. I just wish I could go more often, or that they would move to one of the 3 big Bs - Baker Street, Brixton or Balham.

    Our last meal of pigs head terrine, smoked sprats and potted shrimps were magic. And a shared shoulder of lamb for 5ish wasn't bad either.

    But that said, it sounds like you may have detected a chink in their armour. Next time I go back I'll be extra observant and report back.

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  20. It's a shame. The Pigeon plate really is a horrific presentation.The best laugh I've had in days

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  21. We tried to eat there once. I thikn it was Easter and they had closed for the whole weekend. What is it with Londeners escaping the Big Smoke at Easter? Who knows, but I love it as it leaves those of us who don't with a strangely quiet city to enjoy. Apart from when places are closed. Not sure we missed out here though.

    That gazpacho is simply a child's playground. Wrong.

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  22. I am so sorry to hear this! I'm a huge fan of their sister pub, 32 Great Queen St and I've always meant to go to the A&H.

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  23. While I don't agree with your assessment of the food (http://londonrobstuff.blogspot.com/search/label/Anchor%20and%20Hope) I totally relate to the panic about not having been there and the sneers that would elicit from foodie friends. And any review that mentions a menstruating jellyfish is brilliant in my book - nice one!

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  24. Disgruntled regular2 June 2010 at 07:29

    That gazpacho looks delicious, ice cubes are a common element in this chilled soup as are the croutons, egg etc. 'how are supposed to eat it?' just eat it you fool!! I'm also sure that the tough food may be nicer if you don't ponce about taking photos of it all first.

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  25. Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again

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