Priory Tavern, Belsize Road menu tasting

A couple of weeks ago, a small group of us were guests of Merlin and Lucille – owners of the Priory Tavern on Belsize Road. They had asked us to roadtest their menu, and who were we to say no.*

When the couple took over the pub last year they opted for a fairly straightforward pub menu, but a trip to Vancouver and a restaurant called Meat & Bread prompted a change of direction. With a chef hired from No.5 Cavendish Square, and ingredients sourced from ‘proper’ suppliers, including local outfit Gail’s Bakery, the Priory is striving for something a little different. “The only things that are frozen are the peas, the sorbet and the ice cream,” says Merlin.

We kicked off with some chunky dippers – huge jenga-style bricks of bread and a bowl of gravy, which got the seal of approval from Anthony, our professional northerner.

We also tried a baked camembert, which was suitably fondue-gloopy but needed more bread or something to scoop it out with (and seemed oddly overpriced compared to everything else). It was served with a cranberry and rosehip syrup sauce – a nod to the couple’s impressive mixology pedigree and that impressed Mark. The last of our starters was a rather nice salad with a subtle dressing that lived up to the high standards expected by Tom.

The next round of food was the one most influenced by Meat & Bread. We had a gammon and egg sandwich – the meat was delicious, and this would make a great brunch dish (although Kat wondered whether the chips and the bread might not be overkill). There was also a ribeye steak sandwich in a ciabatta, and a vegetarian sandwich full of amazing chutney and that converted a couple of avowed meat eaters to the delights of vegetarian food. In each case the bread was chunky and delicious, but it does make these very filling sandwiches.

These sandwiches came with “squishable” fries (definitely fries not the sort of chunky chips that one might expect) served in little wire baskets. The sandwiches – in fact everything – is served on chopping boards. It’s fashionable, but is it practical? Lauren was unequivocal: she prefers plates. Certainly anything with a gravy or sauce is not best served on a wooden board and, given the generous servings, it does seem to be an issue. Put to a vote, the majority of us were pro-plate.

After the “meat and bread” dishes came the “meat and veg” plates (or boards). We tried a rosé veal dish and a pork dish served with a variety of well-cooked vegetables. These main courses were good and well-seasoned. If you’re choosing your own food then you get to choose your meat, your veg, and your sauce. The menu changes every couple of days depending on what’s come in.

Our meal closed out with a couple of amazing brownies. “Dish of the day” said Anthony. They were large and excellent (although the melting ice cream rather proved our chopping board point as it ran onto the table).

Much discussion about our meal followed over after-dinner drinks concocted by our hosts. The consensus was that the food had all been very good and very enjoyable. The overall menu was perhaps a little too meat and carbs heavy, with very few light dishes. There’s not much fish on offer and, given the high quality ingredients, there was a suggestion that having a couple of top-notch staples such as sausages and mash would be a good addition. Offering so much choice for constructing a main course probably isn’t necessary – simply letting the chef decide what works well together is enough for most people (and you can always accept substitutions).

So the overall verdict was that the Priory Tavern serves good food that’s well cooked, and you can sense that real care and thought has gone into the offer. Perhaps a few tweaks to the menu could broaden its appeal without damaging the concept and ethos.

The Priory Tavern will host Whampgather VII (Four Worlds Collide) on September 8th – yes, I know it’s not right slap in the middle of West Hampstead, but there’s a good reason we’re having it there. Trust me.

*As regular readers know, we generally do our whampreviews anonymously so, while it was very kind of the Priory Tavern to invite us and provide us with free food, we had also agreed that our opinions wouldn’t be swayed by their generosity.

Photos courtesy of Kat, Lauren and me

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  • Tom

    It's nice when a pub menu can offer bar eats that are not just nibbles, and proper meals, all on one menu. It is nice to construct a meal, but also I agree that in some instances it's best for chef to suggest what goes with what.