Insanity or cold blood? A wartime Belsize Road murder

It was May 1942 when Pauline Barker was murdered at 184 Belsize Road. In the midst of war, the story received scant attention in the press. But it is a sad tale of unhappy marriages and unclear motives.

Pauline Barker was born in Islington in 1899, the daughter of Frederick Charles Barker and Lydia Care, who had married the year before He was a solo harpist and she was a leading contralto with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, they married in London in 1898. Frederick left Lydia in 1910 because of

Her violent temper and ungovernable behaviour and constant and habitual use of filthy, disgusting and obscene language and constant disagreements for ten years which have rendered his married life most unhappy. He has continued to supply her with funds for the maintenance of her and the children, and is willing to continue to do so.

Lydia was willing to let bygones be bygones but Frederick was having none of it.

Dear Sirs, do not waste your eloquence. There is not the remote chance of my returning to my wife. My bitterest enemy could not wish me a worse wish!
Go on with your divorce. It is the only possible remedy.

Lydia bought up Pauline and her two younger siblings in a house on Highgate Hill and Frederick saw them every other Saturday.

Pauline became an accomplished solo harpist like her father. Aged 18, she married 47-year-old George Longfield Beasley (he invented the Beasley-Gamewell system, an integrated fire and police alarm used in Windsor Castle and by several local councils), but after three years, George sued for divorce on the grounds of Pauline’s adultery.

Two years later Pauline married Harry Lowe, who was a viola player and later the conductor of the BBC Theatre Orchestra. But on a boat journey in 1931, Pauline had an affair with a ship’s officer and she and Harry separated, divorcing ten years later, the year before her death.

Pauline’s work flourished as her relationships stumbled. She had engagements with the Russian Ballet and the BBC and played on numerous radio broadcasts from 1924 to 1930, mostly from Belfast. This was where she first met Achilles Apergis, who was a garage proprietor. His full name was Achilles George White Apergis, but he used the name Arthur Anderson. He was brought up in a middle-class family in south London, educated at Dulwich College, and served in the Greek cavalry. His father was a captain in the Greek Army who married an English woman and he became a naturalised British subject.

In 1931, after his Belfast garage failed, Arthur came to London and contacted Pauline again. He worked as a motor engineer with various firms in Kilburn and Cricklewood and then briefly ran the St John’s Wood Garage at 9 Abbey Road. Arthur and Pauline began living together, firstly at 19 Alexandra Road where they stayed for six years. Then Pauline’s mother Lydia, bought 184 Belsize Road, which Pauline ran as a guest house.

184 Belsize Road before the Abbey estate was built

184 Belsize Road before the Abbey estate was built

The relationship did not run smoothly. The couple often quarrelled and Arthur liked to drink heavily in the local pubs. Lydia told the police she heard Arthur using foul language and struggling with Pauline in the bedroom at Belsize Road. He released her when he saw Lydia, saying sarcastically, ‘I didn’t know you had your ‘seconds’ around’. Pauline told her mother this was not unusual and that Apergis was frequently aggressive.

Katherine Maher, one of Pauline’s lodgers, said the relationship between Apergis and his wife was unhappy and she often heard them arguing. He used to hit her and on two occasions she heard him threaten to shoot her. Pauline had even asked Katherine to sleep in her room to prevent her husband coming in.

On 27 May 1942, after a particularly heated row, Arthur packed up his things and left. Pauline told Katherine it was because he was jealous of her talking with one of the lodgers, Philip Sedgwick, who had moved in less than three weeks earlier. Pauline said she was glad Arthur had gone and hoped it would be for good, although she was surprised he left so peacefully without threatening her. She showed Katherine bruises on her leg and thigh where Arthur had pushed her over in the kitchen the previous night.

At about 1pm on the afternoon of 31 May, Katherine and Pauline were talking in the kitchen when they heard Arthur shout ‘Pauline’ from downstairs. Pauline called back, ‘I am just serving lunch, I will be down in a minute – what do you want?’ He said, ‘I want to speak to you a minute.’ She went downstairs and when she came back she told Katherine that Apergis had said he wanted to shoot her. Katherine looked out of the window and saw Arthur at the front of the house. He started to enter the gate but then changed his mind and walked in the direction of the Princess of Wales public house.

The Princess of Wales, on the corner of Belsize Road and Abbey Road, stood here the Lillie Langtry is today. Alfred Rice, the landlord, said in his police statement that he had known ‘Andy’ Apergis for the past five years and he also knew Pauline Barker and that although they lived as man and wife, they weren’t married. At about 7.05pm the evening of 31 May, he saw Apergis in the saloon bar and thought that he’d been drinking but was not drunk. Apergis said, ‘Rice, I may not see you anymore; I am going to commit a murder’. Rice said, ‘Don’t be a fool, pull yourself together’. Apergis said, ‘All right’ and left.

Princess of Wales pub looking down Belsize Road

Princess of Wales pub looking down Belsize Road

That evening, Philip Sedgwick was in the lounge on the ground floor when the man he knew as Mr Barker opened the lounge door asking for Mrs Barker. Sedgwick replied that she was upstairs in the kitchen. Mr Barker walked out and shut the door. Two minutes later Sedgwick heard a loud bang, followed by someone running down the stairs and the front door slamming. When he went up to the kitchen, Sedgwick found Pauline lying on the first-floor landing. There was a strong smell of gunpowder. Finding no pulse he telephoned 999 and told the police what had happened. He waited at the front door until an ambulance and the police arrived.

Arthur had gone back to the pub – just six houses away, confessing to Alfred Rice: ‘I have done it.’ Rice said, ‘You haven’t!’ Apergis said, ‘On my honour as a Greek she is lying stone dead. My honour as a Greek means more than anything. It was a clean shot, all she went was ‘ough’. I put a pillow under her head to make her comfortable.’

Arthur took the loaded Colt 45 from a holster at his waist and handed it to Rice. ‘I don’t want to get you into trouble’, he said,’so if you want it I will tell the police I threw it away.’ In order to get the gun off him Rice said, ‘Thanks old boy, I will have it.’ Arthur took the empty cartridge case out and then gave Rice the gun and the holster. He also gave him a book of National Savings Certificates; ‘this should cover the three or four pounds I owe you.’

Then he said, ‘Buy me a double scotch because I may not see you again, and I am waiting for the police to come.’ The barmaid handed Apergis a double scotch which he drank at the bar. When Rice went into the office to phone Apergis’s brother, Apergis followed him and put 16 bullets into Rice’s jacket pocket. Then Rice heard an ambulance outside and realised that something serious had really happened.

Rice left the pub and met Detective Sergeant Pilgrim at 184 Belsize Road and told him Apergis was waiting in the pub bar. At 7.33pm Dr Rees, the police divisional surgeon arrived at the house and found Pauline Barker had been shot through the heart. At 7.45pm Apergis was arrested in the pub and taken to West Hampstead Police station, which was then on West End Lane next to the Railway Hotel . Rice later gave the police the gun, the bullets, the holster, and the book of certificates.

The next morning, Detective Inspector Herbert Cripps charged Apergis under the name of Arthur Anderson. He made no statement. The post mortem, carried out later that day, showed that the gun had been fired at close range, the single bullet passed through her heart and Pauline died instantly.

On 29 June, at the Old Bailey, Arthur Anderson, 52 was charged with the wilful murder of Pauline Barker. He pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ by reason of insanity. In court, his brother Dr Apergis said there was no insanity in the family. The defence called two eminent psychologists to demonstrate that Anderson was insane at the time he committed the offence, but the jury was not convinced. The medical officer at Brixton Prison also said that in the 26 days the prisoner had been in his charge there had been no evidence of insanity. The jury, which included four women, found Anderson guilty of murder. But they added a strong recommendation for mercy knowing that he would be sentenced to hang.

On 16 July, the Home Secretary informed the Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard that even after a special medical inquiry into his mental state, there were not sufficient grounds to advise His Majesty to interfere with the due course of law.

Following the decision, Arthur Anderson was hanged at Wandsworth Prison by Albert Pierrepoint and Herbert Morris at 9am on 21 July.

After reading all the evidence from the Metropolitan police files, we still don’t know why Arthur killed Pauline. The house has since been demolished as part of the Council redevelopment in the area.

Ed: We’re delighted to welcome back Dick & Marianne to West Hampstead Life, where we’ll be exclusively publishing their local history articles. They’ve been active while WHL was on hiatus, and you can catch up with the stories you’ve missed here, and read the History archives on this site here.

Conjuring up the past of Belsize Road’s David Devant

David Devant, one of the world’s greatest illusionists, lived at 2 Belsize Road from 1899 to 1911 although his blue plaque is at Number 1 Ornan Mansions on the corner of Haverstock Hill (now called Ornan Court).

David Devant pulling a rabbit from the hat

David Devant pulling a rabbit from the hat

He was born as David Edmonstone Wighton on 22 February 1868, at 4 Boston Terrace, opposite the Boston Arms pub in Junction Road, Holloway, the eldest of James Wighton’s seven children. James, a Scottish artist, painted for the Illustrated London News and other magazines, using the family as models, but he wasn’t well paid and the family struggled. They moved several times around north London. As a boy, David was entranced watching magicians perform and he decided this was what he wanted to do. But before he could realise his ambition, he had to earn a living.

After school David began work as a pageboy for a middle class family in Bartholomew Road, Kentish Town. Aged twelve, he polished shoes and cleaned the house. His next job was selling fruit and chocolate in Euston Station, but he was sacked when he was discovered practising conjuring tricks instead of working. Then he worked as telephone operator in the City and a gas lighting salesman.

All the time he practiced conjuring, spending any spare money on magic books and tricks. When he visited an art gallery and saw a French biblical painting called ‘David devant Goliath’ he thought this would be a good stage name, not realising that ‘devant’ meant ‘in front of’.

In 1883 David was very impressed when he saw the Maskelyne and Cooke’s magic shows at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. He did not know that ten years later he would top the bill there.

He began giving shows at parties and his first public performance was at a bazaar held in a schoolroom in Kentish Town Road. Several professional magicians were in the audience and they were impressed by the young David Devant. Encouraged, he advertised his magic shows and hired a local hall.

One of his best tricks was the Vanishing Lady. He asked two women in the street if they would help him. Surprisingly, they agreed and became his assistants. The trick worked very well: one woman partnered Devant while the other concealed herself in the gallery. When Devant pulled a cloth off the women seated on the stage, she disappeared, only to miraculously ‘re-appear’ in the gallery. But one night it all went badly wrong. When he pulled the cloth away his assistant on stage refused to disappear, but the second woman did her part and appeared in the gallery! Quickly the curtain was brought down. Devant later discovered the two women had fallen out over a box of chocolates sent by an admirer!

David made his music hall debut at the Albert Palace near Battersea Park in 1886. His act went down well with audiences and he began to perform around the country. In his autobiography My Magic Life, he says that in about 1888, in Margate, he met Annie Marion Gosling who used the stage name Marion Melville, and they were married three weeks later. But it seems they just lived together as there’s no record of their marriage until 1904 when their daughter Vida was born. Marion worked as Devant’s assistant.

David Devant's Sylph trick

David Devant’s Sylph trick

In 1891, Devant made his first appearance at the London Palladium and the Oxford Theatre. But he was sacked from the Oxford when he dropped a rabbit during his act. The manager used the mistake as an excuse to get rid of Devant, as he had booked another conjuror. Devant lost six months of work.

In 1893 John Maskelyne asked Devant to appear at the Eygptian Hall. This was his big break and the men later became partners as Masklelyne and Devant. Devant took over the running of the hall and organised tours around the country. He was fascinated by cinematography and bought a projection machine from R.W. Paul, becoming the first independent operator in Britain with shows at the Egyptian Hall and three touring companies. In 1904 the hall closed and they moved to St George’s Hall, Oxford Circus.

Devant devised many original illusions. One of his favourite tricks was the Magic Kettle, which produced any drink the audience chose. In The Artists Dream (1893), a portrait of a young woman comes to life. The woman was his wife Marion Melville. The Sylph has a person floating in mid-air while Devant passes a hoop all the way round to show they’re not being held up by wires. In the Mascot Moth (1905), a woman dressed as a moth appears to dissolve and then disappear as he comes near her with a lighted candle.

Devant became the first President of the Magic Circle when it was formed in 1905. By 1912 he was a world famous illusionist and was chosen to represent magicians at the first Royal Command Performance before King George V in the Palace Theatre. He appeared with his young daughter Vida and Maskelyne’s grandson, Jasper. Devant borrowed a bowler hat from a member of the audience and began producing eggs from it. The eggs were passed to Vida and then to Jasper, but as Devant produced them faster and faster, Jasper started dropped them on the stage, proving they were real. The floor around him quickly became covered in broken eggs and the show was held up as the stage hands cleaned up the mess.

David Devant in 1913 with his daughter Vida and Jasper Maskelyne (from My Magic Life)

David Devant in 1913 with his daughter Vida and Jasper Maskelyne (from My Magic Life)

When he appeared in Manchester in 1919, Devant asked a boy from the audience to come on stage and copy everything that he did. He was puzzled when the boy started shaking a handkerchief he’d been given, until he looked down at his own hand and saw it was shaking. This was the first stage of a nervous palsy which got progressively worse and forced Devant to retire in 1920. He continued to write articles and magic books until 1937, when he was admitted to the Royal Hospital for Incurables in Putney. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and died in October 1941 aged 73. The Times obituary says he was the foremost magician of his time.

In Devant’s time, Belsize Road joined Finchley Road and Swiss Cottage Station was on the corner. Number 2 Belsize Road was a large house behind the station. It was destroyed by a German bomb on 12 November 1940, that killed one of the occupants. Other properties were also damaged. The area was rebuilt in 1956 as the Harben Estate and Belsize Road was slightly re-routed.

Loaves with heart at Hart & Lova


Andrea Hartlova gets out of bed at 3.30 each morning to cycle from her home in Islington to her new bakery Hart & Lova in Kilburn, such is her passion for her craft.

Together with master baker Nicolas Juaneda, she produces bread, pastries and cakes and serves Monmouth coffee from the attractively bright and airy Belsize Road shop and café, which opened earlier this week.

Andrea has an impressive baking CV. Having trained as a pastry chef at patisseries in her native Czech Republic, she moved to the UK 11 years ago, and worked at bakeries such as Euphorium in Islington. For the past couple of years she has baked cakes in rented premises in King’s Cross, and supplied her wares to outlets including Harvey Nichols.


Her ultimate goal, however, was always to open her own bakery; she just needed the perfect location. She believes she has found this in Belsize Road, as she wanted her business to be at the heart of a small community with regular customers – not an anonymous high street shop “where you never see the same customer twice”. Belsize Road already boasts some popular businesses: Ekin, Cocoa Exchange, The Priory Tavern and Little Bay all draw regular customers.

Andrea says she already feels part of a close-knit community. The process of renovating the shop – previously an empty unit that had once been a video shop – took six months of hard work, as the building was in a bad state of repair and needed rewiring and decorating. In that time she got to know many neighbours, who would regularly pop in to check on her progress.

Now the wait is over, and the residents of Kilburn and South Hampstead no longer have to go to West End Lane or Maida Vale for freshly baked bread and pastries. Hart & Lova looks set to be a great addition to the shops on Belsize Road and should do well, whether customers are after a coffee for the morning commute, a loaf of bread at the weekend, or a cake for a special occasion.

Judging by the delicious samples West Hampstead Life tried at the launch event this week, Hart & Lova should be around for some time to come.

Izabela Szypulska, café assistant, serves a croissant

Izabela Szypulska, café assistant, serves a croissant


Abbey Area regeneration stutters forward

Last week, Camden council voted on the latest set of plans for the Abbey Area regeneration (that’s the council development around the Abbey Road/Belsize Road junction. James King, who’ll be standing for the Lib Dems in that ward in next year’s local elections, went along and has reported back. There is also extensive documentation for this on Camden’s planning portal.

The ‘Abbey Area’ development was on the agenda of Camden Council’s planning committee. Not for the first time. Planning approval was first granted 18 months ago for the council’s own scheme to redevelop the buildings. Given that these ideas have been under discussion for six years, you might have thought the council would have worked up a well-thought out plan, commanding community support.

It didn’t turn out like that. Although the re-modelled scheme was voted through by a handful of councillors, others on the committee abstained, having exposed a number of weaknesses.

More of that later, but first of all, a brief overview of the development, which involves three phases:
Phase 1 – Demolition of the Belsize Road car park which also houses several businesses; construction of a 14-storey tower at the junction with private flats, a small supermarket space on the ground floor and an ‘energy centre’ in the basement. This will be attached to a six storey housing development with further private housing and new council properties. Shops and commercial office space will be provided on the ground floor.

This is what is now the car park
looking north-west along Abbey Road

Phase 2 – Construction of a health centre space at the base of Casterbridge tower and a new community centre at the base of Snowman tower . This new building will also include a covered courtyard connecting the two tower blocks.

Phase 3 – Demolition of the Emminster and Hinstock council housing blocks, the Abbey Community Centre, Belsize Priory Health Centre, shops and the Lillie Langtry pub. A new 6-7 storey housing block will be built around Belsize Road and Abbey Road, with shops opening out onto a ‘central urban realm space’. 15 ‘mews style’ houses will run alongside the back of Priory Terrace.

The application discussed at the meeting included detailed proposals for Phase 1 only, and sought fresh ‘outline’ permission for Phases 2 and 3. There are many question marks associated with the development, including the increased height of the tower building, the disappointingly low number of shared ownership flats, and uncertainty for tenants and businesses in the buildings earmarked for demolition. But the planning committee focused particularly on the loss of trees and open space.

Although the papers didn’t make this very clear, the development identified 44 trees for the chop. This looked like lazy design, and Lib Dem Cllr Flick Rea led the charge in forcing the council to concede that they will do further analysis and consultation before deciding whether to remove most of the trees.

Meanwhile, councillors of all parties were critical of the design of the new Phase 1 housing block, which eats up the green space in front of the car park. They were rightly unimpressed by the council’s attempt to argue that the redesigned junction (rebranded rather ludicrously as a ‘central character area’) would act as a new open space for young kids. It then emerged that the council is exploring a half-baked plan to remove the traffic lights from one of the busiest junctions in NW6!

The committee did eventually approve the scheme, but the meeting confirmed my view that this development scheme has lost its way. Although it started life as a regeneration initiative, there has been no real attempt to get buy-in from the shops and other traders on Belsize Road and Abbey Road who are affected. No local residents voiced support tonight, and the Kilburn ward councillors were absent from the meeting. Although £2.3m has been spent on various consultants, who organised blue skies workshops and produced glossy brochures, when it came to the planning consultation, nobody from the council bothered to organise a local meeting clearly setting out the plans on the table.

This is not the end of the road. The council has still to work up its detailed scheme for Phase 2 of the development, which is particularly contentious. And the construction phase of the project is likely to take five years or so. So lets hope that the local community is better involved in shaping the project from here on in.

The entire site today

Related articles
Take a look at Abbey Area plans (January 2013)
Abbey Area application passed by Camden (April 2012)
Abbey Area Development will go to City Hall (February 2012)

Abbey Area application passed by Camden

Three local planning applications were on the agenda for Thursday’s Development Control committee meeting (Where Camden councillors vote on large planning applications).

The major decision to be made was regarding the Abbey Area development. This a proposal by Camden council itself, so naturally planning officers were recommending approval. The full 171 page report is here (sorry, not annotated this one!). There was a lengthy discussion in the meeting about this, with some strong views concerning the mix of housing in the new proposal as well as the impact of another large-scale development. Kilburn ward councillor Mike Katz perhaps captured the challenges of the plan most eloquently, pointing out that although the plans might not be perfect, “The best is often the enemy of the good and there’s much good about this development” He went on to address one of the criticisms head on: “I rather take objection that by trying to address our housing needs in NW London that you create a ghetto.”

Loading…Webcast Available Here : <a href=”″></a>

Eventually the vote was unanimously in favour, with two abstentions (Cllrs Rea & Braithwaite). There was no news of what might happen to the businesses that will see their premises destroyed – both under Emminster (Oscar’s Den, the piano shop, the pub), and in the car park (the framers, the upholsterers etc.). The entire webcast of the discussion can be viewed here.

Little Bay: low prices but high expectations

March’s whampreview at Little Bay was the biggest yet. Thirty one of us descended on the quirky Belsize Road restaurant spread across four tables already cluttered with menus, bread, cutlery and glasses. Over the course of a couple of hours we chatted, ate, drank and generally had a lovely time.

Little Bay’s menu has a few surprises up its eastern Mediterranean sleeves. The price is one – this place is famously cheap, espcially if you go off-peak. Alongside the standard menu there are also specials, which are more typical NW6 restaurant prices. But does cheap mean good value? We were about to find out.

The pigs cheeks proved a popular choice for starters. The three plates on Will’s table all got a thumbs up, “just an all-round solid dish”. It was also my option, and while my neighbours peered suspiciously at the food when it arrived, the empty plate 10 minutes later was testament to the taste (hint: it tastes just like pork, who’d have thought). The dish was also one of the high points of Anna’s table.

Choux de crab (that’s crab profiteroles to you and me) polarised opinion. The menu gives no hint of the fieryness that lies within – so those for whom it was a pleasant surprise liked it and.. well, you get the idea. Someone also commented that it “looked a bit rude”, which is the sort of highbrow conversation you can get at whampreview, although normally later in the meal after a few glasses of wine. This many also have been why Robyn referred to them as “food porn”.

Choux de crab (with red pepper sauce)

Crab wasn’t just available in choux form, there was also dressed crab which went down well, although Kat felt it could have been more ambitious despite the pleasing citrus zing. Garlic mushrooms were a hit – and made up for the longish wait Tom’s table had for their starters although as the conversation and wine flowed, no-one seemed to mind too much.

A plate of asparagus looked good, but the asparagus itself underwhelmed Divya (it is out of season, so perhaps no great surprise) while the accompanying coleslaw “had a bit too much to say for itself,” according to Will. Tom was more positive saying the spears were cooked just right and it was a simple but enjoyable dish.

Pastry also figures heavily on the menu – Blake opting for the mysterious sounding Parsons Pastry, which was a main course sized “definitely smoked” chicken pasty . Daniel C. liked his “big juicy mussels” – a perennial Little Bay favourite, while Laura’s mushrooms were “the best I’ve had”, and Debbie said they were “very lovely”. High praise indeed for the humble fungal.

Mushrooms (with the red pepper sauce)

From the starters, many of which came with a bright orange roasted red pepper sauce (or in Amy’s case roasted red pepper in a terrine) to the mains, some of which also came with a bright orange roasted red pepper sauce. Which, if like Sam you’d had already, was a bit disappointing. Meat dishes got a mixed reception – the steak struggling to elicit any enthusiasm: “the kind of steak-chips-sauce combo you could pick up at any pub chain,” according to Lizzie. And, inexplicably, it came with a yorkshire pudding. The lamb steak was well received – although not everyone had it cooked as specified, while the lamb knuckle “fell off the bone” in a good way!

The Belsize chicken – the house special I suppose – is chicken breast stuffed with minced lamb. “A bit odd,” said Ged. But “Worked really well,” said Sue, “very filling!”. Duck breast is another Little Bay favourite, although in this case Caroline and Goetz said theirs was overcooked. Isabelle opted for duck salad, and although the duck itself wasn’t perfect, the dish itself went down well, especially the “delicious, crunchy” pak choi.

The plaice (a fillet wrapped around crab) was another popular choice, although the “spicy” kick of that crab centre again took some by surprse. “Absolutely delicious,” said Debbie. “The centre of the terrine harboured a core of unexpected, unnecessary, overwhelming pepperiness,” said Will. The salmon was on the money for Ben and Tom: “Really nicely cooked and seasoned.” The sea bass worked for Tony: “good side dishes and sauces.” Divya liked the flavours and combinations but thought there needed to be more variation in textures.

Sea bass (yes, you guessed it)

Those red peppers reappeared – stuffed this time. “Very yummy,” said Rebekah and “Good taste,” according to Daniel L., but “tasteless” according to Federica.

I haven’t mentioned the wine, which is odd because quite a lot of it was consumed. The list is good and prices are broadly in line with the food – ie, reasonable. It’s actually a more interesting list than one might expect too.

Desserts were generally deemed perfectly acceptable, if not thrilling. Somehow Will contrived to get the word “historiographical” into his notes on the profiteroles, which I can only assume was a bet that he’s just won, while also describing the tiramisu as “po-faced”. If he’s not careful he’ll be doing all the write-ups from now on!

Despite some hits and misses in the food, the overall impression of Little Bay was positive, especially given the price, with tables paying between £22 and £28 a head (depending how much wine they got through). That’s £10/head cheaper than our last trip to Ladudu. The service at Little Bay was good, especially given how busy the restaurant was that night, with not just us keeping them on their toes. The slightly quirky decor also added to the evening, and the consensus was that people would happily come again. Little Bay is great value, an entertaining experience and long may it continue to be a local’s favourite.

Will’s table: 6.8
Jonathan’s table: 7.8 (must have been the company)
Tom’s table: 7.2
Anna’s table: too busy discussing American politics to score, so “an enjoyable and stimulating evening all round” will have to do.

Little Bay
228 Belsize Road
T: 0207 372 4699

Little Bay on Urbanspoon

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