After years of very thin pickings, the Barbican has recently acquired not one but two classy gastropubs. This, and the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms (opened in 2011) are both part of Ed and Tom Martin’s ten-strong empire. The Jugged Hare was once called the King’s Head; it’s been handsomely remodelled, with a lovely oak floor, red leather seating and more than a scattering of stuffed and mounted animals.
The bar is an idealised version of an old drinking haunt; pints of real ale (four on draught) are downed at tables fashioned from antique whisky barrels. Bar snacks are a cut-above: chips and gravy; pork crackling with apple sauce; venison scotch egg with Cumberland sauce. There’s a bar menu in the same vein.
Vegetarians will have got the message by this point. Meat rules, with just one veggie dish of the day, though there’s plenty of seafood on the dining room menu (prettiest item: poached langoustine worthy of a still life painting).
Game is a feature; a perfectly cooked wood pigeon (from the rotisserie) was helped to star status by accompanying lentils with dripping. Also good was a super-size wild boar and venison sausage, which we paired with a sprightly beetroot and fennel slaw.
The kitchen can do delicate too – a salad of spring pea, broad bean, radish, dandelion, goat’s curd and walnut made a refreshing starter only marred by bullet-like peas, while lemon junket with blood orange jelly was a dreamy finish.
Dishes come from an open kitchen, a space that adds warmth and light to an already appealing dining room. A lot of warmth comes from the staff too: all well drilled, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the menu and wine list. And there’s a lot to know about the latter: there are wines by the glass from a wine preservation system, monthly wine flights (this month has three 50ml measures of pinot noir in white, red and sparkling variations for £9), a producer of the month and, overall, an emphasis on small independent vineyards.
Not everything here works perfectly yet – there’s a fetish for serving food in containers (tins, ceramic pots, kilner jars) that seems fussy, especially as many dishes then need decanting for ease of eating. A bitter, slightly burnt coffee and dull white bread were our only other grumbles. But overall, there’s a great sense of pride and attention to detail – nicely epitomised by the bespoke Jugged Hare bottled pale ale, commissioned from Sambrook’s Brewery.