A gastropub worth shouting about

Sir Clement Freud
Restaurants

A
LONG TIME ago, when Egon Ronay’s Guide was the one to buy, I suggested
to him that all his “inspectors” should review my restaurant – the same
day at the same time. I would cook them a meal with glaring faults
(over-lemoned soup, slightly curdled béarnaise, al dente carotte Vichy)
and see whether and what they noticed. I have always felt that the more
one knew about a critic or inspector, the more valid would be the
assessment.

I saw the old Hungarian gnome on TV the other evening
when he explained that gastropubs now served the best food in the land,
outperforming French bars – and I rather wondered how he found out;
what is the number of French and English licensed premises you have to
visit before your generalisation achieves substance?

I asked a friend to recommend a gastropub of quality and he said The Salusbury, spelt with a “u”.

It is behind Kilburn. I booked and went.

There
are tables and benches outside; as it was snowing these were
unoccupied, but on going in it demanded a sizeable amount of bravery
not to turn around and flee. There was a large room filled with tables
for eight, tenanted by parties of 12, spilling into the passage that
afforded entry to a corridor beside a bar crushed with humanity; this
led to a restaurant that doubled back to the main road and was heaving
with customers. The noise was such that the waitress whom I asked
whether the single empty table was mine could not hear; she moved her
mouth and I sat down.

She did not object.

On the walls were
pictures of marble faces, most resembling my late mother; a striking
one above where I sat depicted a Grecian Peter Snow of swingometer fame.

Some
200 people shouted at each other and looked content. Every table had a
night-light. In my day, Kilburn was not somewhere one lived. That’s all
over. And they call it Queen’s Park.

The menu was impressive,
bigger than A4, leather bound; a choice of five starters at about £7,
main dishes £12, which included vegetables. Desserts £5.

I ate a
carpaccio of tuna, which was really good and there came a basket of
fresh bread and a saucer of cold-pressed olive oil. Around me,
30-something people were kissing and eating roast vegetables, £5.

The
wine list is genuinely impressive: more than 100 wines, many of which
deserve quieter contemplation than is available, in better light than
is on offer.

I pointed at a wine, down a column marked “dry white” and got one nicely chilled, good value at £14.

Then
waited a really long time for slow-roasted belly of pork, which finally
arrived and was all right, but not terrific – which belly of pork can
be if the quality of Brother Pig is high, and the seasoning and the
roasting temperature are observed to a nicety.

The meat required
extensive chewing, there was too much fat and the crackling – the
reason why one orders belly – some way from being crisp.

But you
cannot argue with success, and all around was contentedness as the nice
people of Kilburn chomped and glugged and recognised each other; the
waitresses, many of whom spoke English, performed their duties with
dedication as well as bare midriffs.

As long as you don’t want to
have a conversation, this is a really nice place for food and drink
around the £60-for-two mark – and if you get lucky, as did the couple
at the next table who ordered something that looked great and they
hugely enjoyed, it might be every bit as good as a French bistro. But
on the far side of the Channel they are not nearly as nice to
customers, especially not if they are what the French call Les Rosbifs.

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