Just off the popular Upper Street on quieter Islington Park Road, Public House is one of those places that could easily be walked past unnoticed. This is a pity because unlike many of the boozers in this busy neighbourhood, Public House is distinctly idiosyncratic.
Despite the unassuming entrance, the décor is rather stylish in a shabby chic sort of way - I loved the mismatched furniture and the soft lighting, the large and comfy sofas and the relaxing atmosphere that these create.
Aimed at a more sophisticated, 30-something crowd, the furnishing, food and drinks menus (and prices) reflect this. The name is also a misnomer – Public House is not a pub, but a stylish bar and restaurant.
Accompanying me for the evening was one of my dearest friends, Gary, owner of Start Space, a delightful gallery on 150 Columbia Road, where they sell one of the best cups of coffee in London (as well as some amazing contemporary art).
As we made our choices, we were served an amuse-bouche of mini blinis topped with fish roe, sea salt and chives. I am a real fan of any type of caviar and I enjoyed these despite the blinis being a tad dry.
For starters, we ordered “Scallops with haggis and champagne rhubarb” @ £8.50 and “Duck terrine with roast beetroot and beetroot leaf pesto” @ £7.50. I thought the combination of seafood, lamb and rhubarb an intriguing one and so I just had to try it. The scallops were perfectly cooked and had their coral still on which I thoroughly approved of. Despite the odd combination of flavours, I felt the dish was well executed and beautifully presented and that the rhubarb added a welcome acidity to the rich meats.
The duck however was not nearly as successful. The terrine was under-seasoned, with an even blander beetroot leaf pesto.
For the main course, and keeping up with the “odd food combinations” theme of the evening, I ordered the “Halibut with venison stew and wild mushrooms” @ £17.95. My heart sank as I cut through the halibut, one of my favourite fish, to find it overcooked and sitting on a bed of dry and tough venison chunks. As regards taste, I struggle to find any redeeming features about this dish – it was dry, under-seasoned and the textures did not combine well. What transpired was an ambitious concept marred by a worrying lack of cooking skills.
In contrast, the “Braised lamb shoulder with turnip gratin” @ £14.50 was a rather generous and well cooked piece of meat served with a deliciously concentrated and flavoursome jus. I felt the presentation was uncomplicated and pleasing.
To accompany our main dishes, we ordered “Colcannon” @ £3. This was a tasteless combination of potato and cabbage, lacking both seasoning and flavour.
For dessert, we had “Chocolate mousse with coffee sponge fingers” @ £5 and “Prune and frangipane tart with calvados cream” @ £5.
Both were sadly disappointing, tasting uninspired, and sub-Tesco Finest in flavour and execution.
Cost: this was a complimentary meal but I have quoted prices of all the dishes I tried. I estimate that a three-course meal would cost in the region of £30 excluding drinks. Public House is also on the TasteLondon scheme which entitles members to 50% off the food bill.
Likes: stylish decor, and great cocktails in a relaxing atmosphere.
Dislikes: the food and an expensive wine list with only two bottles under £20.
Verdict: when I am invited to review restaurants, I hope in return to find good things to say about the food and overall experience. On this occasion however, despite the ambitious menu, I felt the food was mostly ill-conceived, and a real let-down, and sadly I cannot recommend it. I loved the decor, the excellent service and the wonderful cocktails, and as a venue for a sophisticated drink, I think that Public House is a real find.