In the past decade, Brit icons like April Bloomfield and Fergus Henderso (of London’s St. John), have transformed English food from punch line into powerhouse cuisine. Jason Hicks and Yves Jadot—the pair behind popular uptown gastropub Jones Wood Foundry—do their own enlightened version at two spots in midtown’s William hotel. While their new haunts are no joke, they don’t measure up to the high bar newly set for British fare.
Hicks and Jadot enlisted a chef with a CV that seemed to have a lot of English-food ambition. British chef Robert Aikens brushed up on classical cuisine at London’s three-Michelin-starred French temple Le Gavroche, before exploring his homeland’s food at the Dandelion, Stephen Starr’s upmarket pub in Philadelphia.
At rathskeller the Shakespeare, Aikens’s suds-soaking classics are neither fussy nor slapdash. Ye olde knickknacks on the walls match dishes that don’t purport to be au courant, like Lincolnshire haslet ($13), a well-salted slab of pork terrine laced with liver and bacon. The low-ceilinged rooms of worn wood act as refuge for the after-work crowd, like a biz-cas Where’s Waldo? spread, with pints of cask ale clinking at the humming bar and in the dining room across the hall.
Waits between courses make airport security look like the 100-meter dash. Steel yourself for the lull with ample pork fat, like a crackly, tender-yolked Scotch egg ($8), or peppery Cumberland bangers and creamy mash ($19) painted dark and sweet with onion gravy. As the stretch before your main expands, tilt back another pint. Patience is rewarded by flaky cod ($24) cocooned in beer batter as crunchy as fallen leaves; too bad the accompanying chips billed as “triple-cooked” are woefully soft—a far cry from the crisp, “thrice-cooked” beauties at the Breslin.
Like any English pub worth its salt, the Shakespeare is a place to stumble upon sober and hungry, and stumble out of drunk and full. But in a city where the gastropub fever peaked a few years back, it’s more a boon to midtowners than destination dining.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Meal highlights: Lincolnshire haslet, Scotch egg, fish-and-chips, bangers and mash, sticky toffee pudding
Behind the bar: Thanks to a high-volume bar, the three cask ales are rotated frequently, complementing a roster of English drafts that features breweries like Greene King and Wells and Young’s.
Vibe: Come for a beer-fueled adrenaline release after work or a mellower, late dinner.
Cocktail chatter: If you look worthy (or are a celebrity), the management might select you for the snug, a private room with a sliding hatch through which the bartenders pass your beers.
Soundcheck: “Werewolves of London” growls on the stereo, while wolves of Wall Street shout at the bar.
By Daniel S. Meyer