The Ship Tavern, Holborn
Despite the fact it's been there since 1549, you'd be forgiven if you've never seen or heard of The Ship Tavern in your life - even if you work in or around Holborn. Tucked away down a side street off of Kingsway, The Ship Tavern has a pretty standard pub exterior and a consistently busy bar area (they have loads of proper ales I gather, alas I was on Sicilian Lemonade). But, journey upstairs and a charming little dining room awaits you; you could almost believe it was kind of like this 500 years ago, if they had nice linen and crystal glasses back then, idk.
The menu reads like homely comfort classics done well - think good pies, hearty meat dishes and a few trendy bits and pieces - and we're given the first clue that things might just be a little bit better than that when our 'bread and butter' arrives. There are three types of homemade butter (smoked paprika, mushroom and possibly olive) which are delicious and make an interesting change ahead of our starters.
I can rarely resist soft shell crab once I've spotted it, and true to form, ordered away. It comes breaded, atop a little 'salad' of white crab meat and dressed with caviar and chilli oil. I confess I found the chilli undetectable, but enjoyed my soft shell fritter so much I did not mind in the slightest. On the menu for £9 and worth it.
There were many tempting starters to choose from - rabbit and tarragon meatball, anyone? - but I bullied my husband into ordering this braised oxtail faggot on celeriac puree (£9) as I really wanted to eat it. In the end, it was so gloriously rich, meaty and with a properly nostalgic texture that he minded not at all.
For my main, I ordered the duck dish which was a breast, a confit leg faggot with cabbage, anna potato and a caramelised plum (£18). At this point it started to bucket it down outside, rendering the already dark dining room even more so and completely vindicating me from any poor photography. It tasted great - crispy skin, blushing meat, all the boxes ticked. Also, we must bring back the anna potato; what is better than a crispy crunchy top and fine layers of buttery carbohydrate underneath?
Then there was the Wellington (£25). The menu asks you to allow an extra 15 minutes, but we didn't notice any extra waiting before this gigantic pastry dome was presented. It's absolutely huge, so go hungry, and is filled as it should be with fillet steak wrapped in mushroom pate. The truffle mash accompanying it was heady and completely unapologetic with its earthy truffley-ness and the whole plate makes you feel rather Henry VIII-esque such is it's richness. In a good way. Truffle mash not your bag? Order the chips instead because mark my words they are fabulous too.
There is literally no way anyone could order pudding after eating that - even if there is sticky toffee pudding and a real ale homemade ice cream on offer. Another time.
PS. if you go, do listen out for some ghostly wailings. Apparently Catholic priests were executed from their hiding places in the various hidey holes around the pub by Henry VIII's minions when he was on a despotic rampage. The Ship Tavern features on many a ghost walk!
**I was a guest of The Ship Tavern and this meal was kindly gratis, but I'd happily pay to eat there again. And I don't write nice things unless I mean them :)