382 Essex Road, N1 www.hopsandglory.co.uk
The Hops & Glory pub sits at one end of Essex Road on the fringes of Islington, heralding the start of the long drag from Canonbury up to Angel.
Islington became an unaffordable borough in which to live long before the term’gentrification’ was coined, and is, of course, home to London’s wealthy intelligentsia.
Unlike rich people in neighbouring Hackney, they know little about box sets, Scandinavian clothing labels or music festivals, instead enjoying expensive furniture, cosy relationships with their literary agents, cravats, supper with poets and politicians, Radio 3 (constantly and quietly), uninspiring Claret delivered by wine merchants, and needless but habitual acts of thrift, like the reuse of teabags.
With the neon glow of Dalston down the road and the £30 salad boxes of Ottolenghi a few roads away on Upper Street, The Hops and Glory is stuck between two different kinds of cash. In deference to the notion that good food is now essential to a pub’s continued survival, the owners have refurbished to accommodate a new kitchen and a new chef with his own menu – but who’s the food aimed at?
As the name suggests, The Hops and Glory already ticked the’craft beer’ box before it was given a makeover. The twelve keg beers and two cask available when I arrive are proof that hasn’t changed, as is the pub’s very own pale ale, which is brewed in the basement. There are beers from the local area such as Crate and Camden, plus others from Belgium, Australia and the US. If you don’t like beer, all is not lost, as the wine list has cleverly been farmed out to Borough Wines, with impressive results.
Further stereotyping reveals that craft beer appeals most to the inhabitants of East London. The trouble is that the’European country cooking’ now advertised at The Hops and Glory sounds far removed from the burgers, fried chicken, and sourdough pizza that’s so often peddled by places serving hipster beer.
There are four starters and five main courses on the menu, and ingredients like pigs head, celeriac aioli, Jerusalem artichoke, smoked mozzarella and choucroute indicate the kitchen has grander ambitions than average pub grub or trendy junk food.
The celeriac aioli dresses a starter of radicchio, Harrogate blue and walnuts, which offers the prickly bitterness of the chicory and nuts against the creaminess of the blue cheese. It’s a classic combination that works so well on this occasion because the quality of every ingredient in the dish is there to taste.
Rump steak may sound like run-of-the-mill pub fare but the intense hit of oxtail, plus some poached onions and a horseradish sauce that accompany it mean the dish has a refinement you’d associate with food emerging from a restaurant kitchen. The meat itself is great quality, and the charred crust and blushing interior show the cooking has done it justice. Triple cooked chips are fairly ubiquitous these days but they’re rarely as good as this.
My vegetarian chum has worked his way through finely sliced discs of yellow beetroot with fennel and Dorset blue, a gooey, brie-like cheese, and sets about celeriac steak with spelt and ewe’s milk cheese for his main course. The latter is an inventive dish rather than an after-thought, and bodes well for vegetarians who want somewhere to rely on for alternatives to risotto.
Dinner is so plentiful that I have to turn down pudding. An honourable mention must go to ‘parkin, butterscotch and forced rhubarb’, as it speaks in such gloriously comforting terms of Yorkshire that it almost breaks my resolve.
The generosity of our meal at The Hops is what made it particularly memorable; from the saucing, to the seasoning, to the quality of the ingredients, everything felt indulgent. This ought to be the yardstick for pub food, rather than judging it purely in terms of cost-to-volume ratio.
The Hops and Glory is a great place for beers with mates, and the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen makes it a strong candidate for meals with dates. I pass the pub on my way to work and had always imagined it serving scotch eggs, fish and chips and not much else, but the food is far more accomplished than that.
If a pub is going to successfully serve the crowds of both Hackney and Islington, The Hops and Glory might just be it.