The Duchess of Kent 441 Liverpool Street, Islington N1 9HF www.geronimo-inns.co.uk
There’s a bit of a dearth of good pubs around Highbury & Islington train station in London. You can take your pick from a jiggy but rammed theatre pub, a brawly boozer full of reddened baldheads or a freezing warehouse bar. Tempted? But if you poke behind the side streets, there’s a decent gastropub and a bit of a secret.
The Duchess of Kent is an Islington home-from-home though done in Geronimo-inn – its owner’s – style. This means it’s individual but recognisably chain. Geronimo has 26 London pubs and this one is decorated like a drawing-room with its Shaker furniture and book shelves. The cast of Eastenders seemed to have stumbled upon it the night we visited but I’ve seen thesps, wasps and council workers in there too.
The food is a little hit, a little miss. But gastropubs are, after all, not restaurants despite many in Islington pretending to be. Just try Camden Passage for pretension. So annoying when you go to order a pint and they wail on about table service. However, it’s a bit more restaurant here than pub so this one escapes my ire. A hit was the dill and beetroot cured Scottish salmon with cream on horseradish and ryebread. Using beetroot to treat the salmon gave it a lovely ruby hue and it was thick and juicy. My poached sausage dumplings in leek broth with Stilton was nicely balanced although, to be fair, they were sausages rather than dumplings.
For mains, I had a slow-roast pork belly with seared foie gras, bubble & squeak, apple cider and shallot gravy. This was OK but needed salt and the constituent parts rather melded into mulch. The crackling was great though, smashing. I suspect my companion had the Hereford rib-eye steak with fat chips but to be honest, I don’t remember as he seemed just to scoff it without articulation. Perhaps a good thing? My favourite here was the lovely comforting, homely side of creamed cabbage and bacon which was nicely robust. Too robust, almost solid, however, was the lemon posset and shortbread – pure cream, way too heavy and a disappointment.
Again, my companion seemed to proffer no opinion on the white chocolate cheesecake while gannetting it, that’s the last time I’ll take him anywhere. Perhaps I’m just fussier. In fact I am, so don’t take my word for it. If you’re stuck in the badlands of N5 and hungry, you could do lots worse than look up the Duchess of Kent.