Owner Tom Conran was a gastropub pioneer, and the Cow continues to serve fine, pricey, fish-oriented food in its upstairs restaurant. Eating in the smallish downstairs bar is a different proposition: seating is pub-style (small round tables, banquettes and stools); the short menu is chalked on a blackboard, and no reservations are taken. It’s unpretentious, down to the anti-decor red lino and the yellowing ceiling, with drinkers at the front putting away well-poured Guinness and a good selection of Belgian and other beers, while diners at the back enjoy some fine food and a boho west London vibe.
Again, seafood takes centre stage, with oysters, whelks and winkles, and prawns by the pint. Tiger prawns, for a starter, were big and juicy, served in an unashamedly rich sauce. But the star attraction was fish stew with rouille and croûtons: mussels, salmon, little bits of fish in batter, all packed into a heavily flavoured, dark, dense and soupy sauce, dotted with little flakes of chilli (the rouille also packed some chilli heat) – a sumptuous version of a classic. Tagliolini with crab, tomato and chilli was also a winner: a generous amount of crabmeat, subtly warm with chilli, served with pasta cooked precisely al dente. The likes of steak and sausages round out the bar menu. Staff were charming.