Room for improvement at Highgate's Rose and Crown

by Victoria Prever Grumpy is a smoking fascist. He s spent years fanning smoke from his airspace. Many evenings have been spent with him frowning on, tutting at and even telling off adjacent smokers for ruining his dining pleasure. How we cheered on

by Victoria Prever

Grumpy is a smoking fascist. He's spent years fanning smoke from his airspace. Many evenings have been spent with him frowning on, tutting at and even telling off adjacent smokers for ruining his dining pleasure. How we cheered on July 1 when the evil weed was finally banished from our pubs, club and restaurants.

Suddenly, a wealth of eating opportunities have opened up to us. Pre-smoking ban, we'd peered into the Rose and Crown, but one whiff of the smoke filled air was enough to send the Grumpster skipping to a smoke-free zone.

A week or so ago, we returned to try out the delights of this pub with food - I hesitate to use the term gastropub. The Rose and Crown occupies a fantastic location, slap bang in the middle of the High Street. It has undergone a few transformations over the last few years - from traditional local to "all white" grandeur to its current incarnation. With a reasonably sized dining area and large garden, hungry Highgate diners should be queuing in the street.

Outside, a few (nicotine) addicts sat shivering with their fix. Inside, it was quiet. A table of eight was leaving and only one other was occupied. There's a small bar area at the front and behind it is the dining area, painted that deep red much favoured in 80s middle-class dining rooms. Décor is quaintly quirky with interesting mirrors, church pews as seats and a motley mixture of aged wooden tables and chairs. With only a handful of diners it was pleasant. A full house might be snug. There's also a big garden where they are happy to serve food.

A friendly waitress brought us menus - on paper screwed (with bolts) onto heavy wooden boards. It's a mixture of standard pub fare (soup, chicken liver pate, fish and chips and sirloin steak) with a smattering of interesting extras (haloumi and pear salad, vodka lemon chicken) and an obvious Hungarian influence with dishes like Hortobagyl pancakes (meat with paprika sauce) and beef gulyas - ghoulash to you and me.

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With only four guests, service was speedy and efficient. Grumpy's haloumi and pear salad was a success. A generous pile of syrupy pear wedges, chewy charred haloumi, mixed salad leaves and wholemeal croutons lightly dressed in creamy vinaigrette. Good start. My rustic caramelised onion tart was a disc of crisp but unglazed puff pastry underneath a wedge of warm goats cheese and a pile of softly sweet but unnervingly anaemic looking onions. It sat on a pile of salad leaves with some (garlicky) sun-dried tomatoes and an attractive squiggle of darkly sticky, reduced balsamic vinegar. Not bad, just lacking finesse - but then this is a pub.

The Rose and Crown seems to be in two minds. It's not sure if it's a pub or a restaurant. With its pub head on , a plasma screen - a few feet from our table - was playing a darts match - volume up. It attempts restaurant ambience and aspirational food but blasts adolescent rock music out of the speakers. Hardly music to eat haloumi to.

Almost too soon after we'd cleared our plates, our main courses arrived. These were less successful. Grumpy's Nicoise Tuna Salad was unattractively spread over a flat plate. A decently cooked but thin slice of tuna topped with a small pile of inappropriate tomato salsa sat on some salad leaves. All the textbook components of this summery French salad were there, just not the best examples of their kind. Passable hard boiled egg, oddly browned new potatoes, (slimily overcooked) green beans, chewy tinned anchovies and fat, squashy capers were collectively only awarded a three out of ten by my companion.

My Bang Bang Chicken Burger was marginally more successful. A thin chargrilled chicken fillet sandwiched between all the standard burger components - sesame seed bun, sliced tomato and raw onion. I've never understood what raw onion adds to a burger - except bad breath. The 'Bang Bang' bit was provided by a smear of sticky, sweet peanutty sauce. There was an extra dish of sauce on the plate for chip dipping or spreading more liberally on the burger. The chips (originally from a freezer compartment) were nicely hot and golden.

Too full for dessert, we passed on the chocolate mousse, 'gundel' pancakes, cream 'brulle' (sic), cheese or ice cream and the lengthy 'coffee menu'.

The Rose and Crown is at the pub end of the gastropub spectrum. It almost looks the gastro part but the food is more spit and sawdust than "fain dai-ning". Unfortunately its too high prices don't make it good value. In its favour, I'd agree with the menu's claim that they are "child friendly, dog friendly, everyone friendly". Our waitress couldn't have been nicer or more helpful.

It seems a waste of a top location in an area lacking in good, reasonable places to eat. If they can sharpen up their menu and presentation then this place could be a goldmine.

As it is, I wouldn't make a special trip.

Rose and Crown, 86 Highgate High Street, Highgate, London N6 5HX.

Telephone: 020-8340 6712.

Food: Three star rating

Service: Four star rating

Opening hours: Monday closed Tuesday-Friday 12pm-12am, Saturday 10am-12am, Sunday 10am-10.30pm

Cost: Two courses approx £17 per head.

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