When I used to visit the UK during holidays in my early teens, I took photos of traditional pubs because they had the most hilarious names (The Foul Mouthed Count; The Hung, Drawn & Quartered; The Bucket of Blood; The Famous Cock; The Dandy Cock; etc on the cock series). The novelty’s worn off now that I live here and I could actually count the times I’ve been.
I know not much about pub food other than the fact that most of the time they hit the CUTS: Comforting, Unpretentious, Traditional & Substantial. So when I got invited to try The Ship Tavern
in Holborn my curiosity was rather tickled.
Downstairs was a typical post-work pub scene: a rather packed room with suits, tourists, and students covering the bar area. Upstairs is the Oak Room, a much more civilised dining area with touches of old school candelabras, antiques and library lamps, dark wood panelling and upholstery.
It was all rather Dickensian and reminded me of my grandpa, in a good way.
As it was technically a pub I felt compelled to order a pint of something but as I’m not much of a beer drinker, I ordered a glass of Casa Vinicota Botter (£7.20), a lean and refreshing Pinot Grigio. B, who’s not much of a pub person either, ordered a sparkling apple juice which was rather nice and refreshing. (£3.75)
I’d say The Oak Room can probably sit 60 or more at maximum capacity and it was rather busy when we visited. As this was the case I wondered why they only had two people manning the tables AND the bar upstairs.
We started with good ol’ pub classic (and beer match) salt and pepper calamari (£8). Ship Tavern’s offering was a generous portion of squid with a nice crunchy batter. To be honest, calamari usually tastes the same to me but I liked this enough. Probs would have tasted nicer had I paired it with beer.
Our mains arrived and I realised they’ve forgotten my starters… and our cutlery. Our server had gone on to greet new people by the entrance (twas a busy Tuesday!) and the other one was busy with other tables so we were left with our beautifully presented food turning slightly cold.
When we finally got his attention though, our server was apologetic and pulled out the stops so we can still enjoy our meal.
Let me just tell you though, our food were really beautifully presented. I mean isn’t pub food meant to be homey and comforting? Our plates looked like upscale restaurant dishes!
B ordered the Beef & ‘1549’ Real Ale Sausages (£14) which came in threes and served with bacon & smoked caramelised onion mash and onion gravy. It looked like a duvet on a cold Winter night and I couldn’t help my food envy. The sauce glistened like mad and it smelt super good.
ST’s sausages are made by their own butcher from Smithfields. It was a nice proper meaty sausage and I genuinely thought it was tasty except it may have been slightly overcooked. The gravy had a slight sweetness to it and the mash came in a massive serving. I can see why this is such a loved pub classic. It’s really comforting.
My main of pan-fried halibut (£20) on the other hand, looked like an inspired meal. Served on a bed of swede puree and topped with two massive razor clams and samphire with a creamy sauce, this looked so gourmet and I got super excited to eat it.
I think this dish had a lot of potential to be all sorts of great had execution been better and it makes me want to cry because this could have been a champion dish. The big portion of halibut overcooked and bland. The cream sauce was a bit too dense and overpowered most of the flavours on the plate. I was gutted most about the beautiful fat razor clams as I couldn’t taste them at all in all that cream.
Spinach. Butter. 1/5 a day.
My seared King scallops (£11) finally arrived. Again, it looked more seafood restaurant than pub food. It came with rabbit and sage meatballs, pea puree and lemongrass oil. I thought the scallops were beautifully cooked but the rabbit meatballs were slightly salty.
The Ship Tavern definitely made me re-think of pub food as I think it’s definitely tinkered my expectations on presentation and variety. A few tiny issues were noticeable, like the lack of servers and the overcooked mains but overall I think the menu is promising and definitely has a lot of potential. They say they’re Holborn’s secret hidden gem and perhaps soon enough, with a bit of tweaking, they won’t be hidden anymore.
12 Gate St, London WC2A
My meal was complimentary but average spend pp is £30