Four Legs at The Compton Arms
by Laura Evans - Wednesday October 30, 2019 9:10 am
What can visitors expect from the inventive, rotating menu?
The burger: one of my favourite things to tuck into, yet not always done well.
Be it overdone meat, lack of beefiness, under seasoning, or the addition of unnecessary extras, it’s easy to get wrong, and its seeming simplicity should not be taken for granted.
And then comes along Four Legs and whispers of ‘best in London’ accolades. Could their crack at the burger be worthy of such praise?
But first to the pub: down an unassuming Islington side street just a stone’s throw from Upper Street and Highbury Corner, it’s an establishment that ticks a lot of boxes.
Since being taken over last year by the landlord of The Gun in Hackney there’s been a wee makeover, and compared to its days under the Greene King banner, a more eclectic mix of beers is now served on tap.
We sup on Boxcar’s immensely drinkable and hazy IPA – look out for the brewery’s eye-catching labels – and Gipsy Hill’s Hepcat, a juicy session.
Those not fancying craft are well-catered for as well: ‘Compromise’, a cleverly edited reincarnation of Fosters is being poured alongside Symonds.
There’s a well-crafted wine and cocktail list too: we sample the East London Negroni, where the sweet vermouth used – Antica Formula – adds a quaffable vanilla quality to the punchy concoction.
It’s a cosy, low-lit space: tables, chairs and stools are dotted about, and a varied mixture of tunes add atmosphere – louder than background noise but not powerful enough to be distracting.
TVs hang at both ends ready for footie fans, and a number of board games are stacked by the window.
Plus, there’s a dinky dining room out the back for those who don’t want to eat in the main area, and a garden. Be warned: it gets busy, and on the Tuesday night we dine, it’s a struggle to find a seat.
The food comes courtesy of Four Legs, a chef duo comprised of Jamie Allan (of Hill & Szrok) and Ed McIlroy (ex Bao). A formidable team, they have a long-term residency at the watering hole.
And the name stems from the famous saying, ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: a nod to The Compton Arms apparently being one of the author’s most-loved pubs, and the inspirational setting for his essay The Moon Under The Water.
The small plates menu changes daily, but diners will find a few mainstay faves. Order at the bar: items arrive as and when they’re ready, presented on an eclectic mix of crockery featuring gleaming gold trim, flowers, pastels, and butterflies.
Back to that burger (one of said linchpins): the sizeable top-notch Dexter patty brings in tons of beefy goodness, a smattering of finely diced white onion and a layer of piquant pickles add zing, whilst the melted cheese provides extra richness.
And that sauce… thoughts of the ‘Golden Arches’ spring to mind. All expertly placed between a toasted brioche bun. Not always in favour of this buttery choice of bread, it works well here, complementing each yummy bite rather than overpowering.
We could have gone home happy souls at that point, but there’s way more to recommend.
Green tomatoes are cooked until a little charred and doused in fiery, umami-filled XO, whilst a pile of fried rice contains a generous amount of crisp yet tender duck, a colourful array of precisely chopped scallions and red chillI, and shreds of omelette.
A moist slice of banana bread sitting in a puddle of sweet and indulgent butterscotch rounds things off.
Other appetising-sounding choices include mussels in pear cider, rock oysters, and ragu maltagliati.
And on Sundays they whip up a handful of roasts, but not just standard options – as well Galloway rump with all the trimmings, there’s also the likes of whole mackerel with greens.
We’re back again just a few days later: there are new beers on tap, and this time we order a burger each – that one’s not for sharing.
Four Legs at The Compton Arms, 4 Compton Avenue, Islington N1 2XD. Kitchen is open Tues-Fri 6-9pm, Sat 1-9pm & Sun 1-7pm.
Photos by Graham Turner and Vicki Couchman