Plenty to beef about at the revamped Duke of Wellington
The grand old Duke of York had 10,000 men. I ll bet the Duke of Wellington probably had just as many when he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo but didn t make nearly such a song and dance about it. Unfortunately, the owners of his namesake pub (converted from
The grand old Duke of York had 10,000 men. I'll bet the Duke of Wellington probably had just as many when he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo but didn't make nearly such a song and dance about it. Unfortunately, the owners of his namesake pub (converted from a character-packed old man's pub packed with Wellington memorabilia to yet another gastro venture late last year) don't seem to believe that less is more. It's dangerous to over promise and under deliver.
I'd arrived at The Duke of Wellington expecting the usual formulaic gastropub experience. Once seated in the upstairs dining room, the designer light fittings, tasteful cream walls and fancy menu seemed a quite different proposition.
The menu reads in parts like a food Debrett's - white truffle oil, Sevruga caviar, oysters and foie gras. Not your average pub menu. Smart interior design, expensive ingredients and fancy menu descriptions all raise expectations that need living up to.
Having expected a line up of simple rustic pub dishes, not the lengthy, rich constructions before me, I struggled with my order as did my dining partner, Jackie, a gastro-chef herself. A decent basket of good sourdough bread appeased us a little.
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Telephoning only a few hours before, I'd been lucky to secure a table, which I'd been told we'd have to relinquish after an hour and a half. The man I spoke to was so charming I wasn't remotely offended. On arrival, the equally amiable waitress told me that we could in fact have our table as long as we wanted.
The style is tasteful period living room. A fireplace is decorated with candles and flowers, a huge mural-type photo occupies one wall, framed letters hang on other walls. As I couldn't read their tiny print without dangling my coat in someone's soup, I have no idea who the letters are to or from. Tables are closely packed making the room noisy (and unpleasantly warm) when full of diners.
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Having been first into the dining room, our first courses arrived promptly. Jackie's warm crottin of goat's cheese with pine nut and lemon thyme crust was a hulking ball of cheese that would have been at home on a cricket pitch. It was a novel if lumbering idea though - studded, pomander-like, with lightly tanned pine nuts and marooned on a plate with roughly scattered leaves and some blobs of tapenade.
Marvelling at (a) its huge girth and (b) its interesting construction, Jackie said it was fine - for a greedy French mouse - but could have done with being about a quarter of the size.
I went for the duck-fest. A warm salad of confit and smoked duck, salted foie gras strewn with (current fashionable favourite) pomegranate seeds and some hazelnuts. It was fine, but the foie gras tasted all salt and no foie, and the other pieces of duck seemed to have been shredded with Tiddles in mind. The whole salad looked like whoever happened to be the kitchen had plonked a handful of ingredients on a plate. All a bit makeshift.
By the time our main courses arrived everyone in the dining room had complexions as ruddy as if they'd done an hour with Mr Motivator. Our friendly waitress - dressed more sensibly for the local climate in a thin vest top - opened a window for the rest of us in winter clothing.
Jackie's main course - lamb three ways - had aspirations of grandeur. It was in fact a grand old plate of meat and should have been renamed "one great way with lamb and two others you might want to avoid". Grilled noisette of lamb was cold and on a pile of (marginally) undercooked beans. A mini shepherd's pie was as tasty as it was cute. The third way - a pile of slow roast shoulder with kale, garlic and anchovy - was too heavy on the anchovy, making it unpleasantly fishy and was filled with too thick slices of fresh chilli. Much remained on Jackie's plate.
My field mushroom, onion and thyme pudding was unattractive but surprisingly good. A rib-stickingly hearty, steamed suet shell filled with tasty mushrooms in shiny thick gravy. It sat in a pool of cheesey fonduta sauce, which was a complementary if sticky partner. With a salad and green beans it was a generous main course dish.
Desserts seemed almost as they should be, simple, mostly seasonal favourites. A generous bowl of rice pudding was topped with excellent poached plums. The lemon thyme syrup in which they were said to have been poached was too subtle for me to find any thyme but the rice itself was comfortingly school pudding-thick and sweet, the plums a good tart match.
Crumble seems to have become the banoffee pie of the gastropub. Everyone's doing one and although it's the simplest of puddings to make, most are disappointing. The Duke's crumble was just that. Unwieldy lengths of undersweetened Yorkshire rhubarb lay flaccidly under a crumble base that seemed to be made up of chunks or not particularly nice crushed biscuits. Jackie struggled to eat it without a knife and fork and again left much on her plate. How hard can it be to get this right?
Our meal was OK but didn't really live up to the flowery menu descriptions. The Duke of Wellington needs to either sort out its purple menu prose or buck up its ideas. The food is passable, even good in parts, but with main courses listed like Michelin-starred fare and touching the £20 mark, it fails to live up to reputation.
If you do visit, try the downstairs menu served in the bar - some of which you get upstairs but with more simple, honest grub. Even that's dressed up in fancy menu jargon - a simple steak and chips becomes "char-grilled 40 day aged rump of beef with tarragon and shallot jus and chips". Enough already.
Duke of Wellington, 94a Crawford Street, Marylebone, W1H 2HQ.
Telephone: 020-7723 2790
Service: two star rating
Food: four star rating
Opening hours: Mondays to Saturdays 11am-11pm, Sundaysnoon to 10.30pm.
Food served: Mondays and Tuesdays noon to 3pm, Wednesdays to Fridays noon to 3pm and 6pm to 11pm, Sundays 12.30pm to 4pm.
Cost: £66.94 three courses including 12.5% service (one glass of wine, one coffee).