Most Londoners know the Spaniards Inn – it’s been a feature of Hampstead Heath since 1585, with Keats and Dickens both former quaffers. Now run by booze behemoth Mitchells & Butlers, it relaunched in 2013 but remains as atmospheric as you’d hope, with dark panels and low beams stretching through the bar and restaurant rooms. The real change is in the menu, which now aims for gastro heights with smart beer pairings for every dish (Czech black lager from Bernard Dark was a great match, as you’d hope at £4.94 a pint). But, all in all, it’s pretty conservative – and priced a couple of notches above the norm.
A beautifully tender gigot was among the more exciting options, but its bed of chickpeas (tingly with harissa), parsley, super-sweet tomatoes, black olives and chunks of merguez should have been warmed through. Fish and chips was good – the fish tightly sleeved in batter, the thin chips served in a modish paper-lined cup – but came with over-minted mushy peas and a too gentle tartare. Even bakewell tart was overshadowed by its sumptuous white chocolate and amaretti biscuit ice-cream. The big garden (with twinkling fairy lights at night and a doggie wash) backs right on to the Heath.