Julian Critchlow: A review of The Andover Arms

critchlowBy our restaurant critic Julian Critchlow

The Andover Arms
57 Aldensley Road
London W6 0DL
020 8748 2155

Dr Johnson once said that there is “nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn”.

I visited the Andover Arms, in the heart of Brackenbury village, so see how it measures up to the aphorism.

I was not disappointed.  Indeed, although the pub was probably built well after his time, the ambience, with its bare, stained boards, and the intricate woodwork of the bar, it would be easy to imagine the good doctor sipping a pint of sound ale in a cosy corner.  Only the absence of tobacco smoke, and a low, but to my ears rather jarring, thrum of background music would have been unfamiliar to him.  For the Andover is, first of all, a good, traditional pub, enthusiastically patronised by the locals, and open every day including for lunch.  That is not to say that the bar itself is without sophistication – as well as a choice of several Fullers’ beers, it boasts a range of 15 different single malts, as well as other Scotches, and whiskeys.

However, I had come primarily to sample the provender.  If your taste turns to nouvelle cuisine portions, stop reading now.  The menu is as traditional as the décor, though not unimaginative, and as substantial.  My dining companion and I both started with the “pan” fried scallops (how can scallops be fried other than in a pan?), crispy squid, pea puree and balsamic.  It was beautifully presented: really warm, rather than lukewarm (contrary to how such dishes are too often served), firm, and succulent.   My companion accompanied hers with a glass of the House champagne which was full-flavoured, and served at the proper temperature.

For the main course, I chose slow roast half shoulder of lamb in rosemary gravy.  My initial reaction was that it would readily have fed a family of four, and still left enough to take home for the dog.  However, the meat, whilst firm, was tender, and slipped equally easily off the bone and down the throat.  I noted that three vegetables were served with it, as well as the potatoes.

My companion opted for the 250g (8.8 ounces in Church of England) rib-eye – the smallest on offer, the alternative being a massive 350 g (12.3 ounces).  She asked for it medium rare, and that is just how it came, with a spicy sauce on the side.  Talking of spicy, we ordered with it the Argentinian Malbec – good tannins and after-taste.

I finished with apple and berry crumble and custard.  My companion found the crumble topping slightly hard for her taste, but it suited me very well.  It was filled with chunks of identifiable fruit and gave the overall impression of being authentically home-made.  However, only the need for courtesy to the service, and childhood memories of being told to remember the starving, enabled me to finish the entire industrial-sized quantity.  My companion was delighted with her delicately flavoured gingerbread cheesecake with honeycomb ice cream.

Our choices were typical of the menu of a whole – a good selection is available, including pheasant, fish and chips, and mushroom wellington for the mains.

There is also a reasonably large selection of wines, though I considered their prices to be somewhat on the high side: the excellent Lebanese wine, Chateau Musar 2002 is available but, at £60 a bottle, it has a 50% or 70% mark-up on the retail cost (depending on how carefully you buy) and the Borolo was £65.  However, our Malbec was a more reasonable £26, and good enough to suggest that the establishment has refused to sacrifice quality to cost anywhere on the list.  It was pleasing to see a bottle of table water automatically provided.  Bread is an extra £2.25, but comes with oil.

The total cost of our meal for two came to somewhat over £100, including service.  I calculated that three courses, without wine or bread, would cost between  £23.20 and £46.95 per person.

Finally, the service was attentive and friendly.  Full marks, in particular, to the manageress, who has the rare knack of charm without intrusiveness, and an obviously boundless enthusiasm for the her task.

This is an establishment I should not hesitate to recommend, and to which I shall certainly return (having taken the precaution of having fasted for the week beforehand!).


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