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The Clissold Arms N2
A laid-back but high quality gastropub that's all the more welcome in the gastronomically deprived environs of Muswell Hill.
Typical Conversations We Have with our Customers: No 14.
Reader: 'You don't have many places in North London... that's where I live.'
Us: 'No. True. We don't. We always struggle to find good places.'
Reader: 'That's the problem. That's why I need a guide.'
Us: 'Hmm. Are there any restaurants you know of that we're missing and should be included?'
Reader: 'Um, no. Not really.'
The almost invariable outcome is agreement that North London - though it has places to eat - is puzzlingly short of good places to eat. Muswell Hill for instance - one of London's more attractive villages - has (with the exception of its star chippie, Toffs) - often not rated any mentions in our guide.
The area will at least double its showing in next year's edition with the opening of the newly re-vamped The Clissold Arms (right on its border with East Finchley).
The compulsory factoid that must be inserted in reviews of the Clissold Arms is that it's where The Kinks hosted their first ever gig. Not that you'd know it now (which is, all things considered, probably a good thing). The only shrine to the crooners of Waterloo Sunset is a series of tasteful black-framed pics, tucked away discreetly on the way to the Gents.
Lookswise, there's nothing original about this modishly gentrified pub, complete with a kitchen on-view and standard-issue battered leather sofas. But that's no real criticism. The strenuously neutral interior is light and airy, and money has clearly been spent on acres of wood-panelling. It was cold when we visited, but the garden looked a fantastic place to while away an afternoon. There's even parking!
Our server looked like he was one of the main men, who throughout the meal matched natural charm with a good level of efficiency.
Neither of us feeling particularly famished, we ignored the temptation of the £57 rib of beef for three complete with chips fried in beef dripping. It came as a relief, though, that the menu was not just awash with gastropub-stodge, and - pleasant surprise - came with a good number of lightweight options.
Artichoke soup was a rich, classic creamy affair, with a strong tangy taste. Baby carrot and Stichelton made up a great salad. (Stichelton - as you will know - is a trendy form of unpasteurised Stilton.) All yum so far.
After this flying start we got bogged down on the dish I was really looking forward to: crab tempura. It was a generous portion with a great mayonnaise but the batter - oozing oil with each bite - was reminiscent of a cheap chippie. Another salad (I said we weren't hungry) was really boring.
We needed a decider in the shape of pudding: a warm berry tart. We were on the up again: the fruit had been sweetened just the right amount, and its pastry case looked and tasted freshly made. A dish of which a patriot could be proud.
So - notwithstanding the odd slip in execution but awarding full marks for honesty of intent - we decided to give the place the benefit of the doubt and say we were a bit unlucky on the mains, and to forgive any, er, Kinks. Well, it is in North London.
Fortis Grn, London, N2 9HR
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Last orders: 10 pm, Sat 10.30 pm, Sun 9 pm