The first-world conundrum of whether to dedicate Saturday night to fine dining or serious drinking is tackled head-on by the folks behind the Marksman, a fine addition to Hackney Road’s swelling crop of bars and restaurants.
The owners have made few changes to the interior of this much-loved boozer, which means that the bar has retained many of the locals who used to prop it up. What has changed is the food, courtesy of head chefs and joint owners Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram, whose CVs include stints at St John, One Leicester Street and Fifteen.
Starters of devilled crab on toast, or beef and barley bun with horseradish cream (the house speciality) are attention-grabbing options, but our fried salt hake and potato rissoles stole their thunder: perfect morsels with delicately crisp exteriors that gave way to butter-smooth centres. Mains stray even further from the gastropub script: curried duck with sourdough roti and tomato chutney was deliciously savoury, rich in ghee, and extraordinary in texture; the type of dish that stays in your thoughts. For dessert, a brown butter and honey tart was so light it was a mystery of culinary engineering.
If you can’t get a table, must-try on-tap offerings and excellent bottled beers should soften the blow. Opt for the seasonal specials or the Duchesse de Bourgogne, with a hint of tang from balsamic vinegar.
The Marksman isn’t cheap, but it’s good value for the calibre of cooking. Dinner here is like having your low-end/high-end cake and eating it too.