The restaurant: The Lady Ottoline, 11A Northington St, London WC1N 2JF
The Lady Ottoline is what you wish your local pub was like. Elegant and brash, a good booze selection and food that, if you haven’t made a reservation in town, you can pop upstairs to the restaurant and order without a scruple. It’s also the sort of place where, you can order the something you’re not too enamoured with and it can tarnish your fondness of the place. In most cases, there’s only a chance to review a few dishes; then you must assume the same calibre for the rest of the menu. I can’t and won’t do that with Lady Ottoline because of the refreshingly diverse nature of their quintessential pub food. Beer battered haddock, braised ox cheek and celeriac gnocchi are dishes that each require very different cooking disciplines. What I glean from the menu (and peering at other diner’s plates) is that the chef behind the dishes has a very versatile skillset and is particular in using high quality ingredients.
The tale of the Lady Ottoline is endearing. The pub, named after an aristocrat famed for her love affairs, fittingly (or unfittingly) broke the hearts of Bloomsbury locals when it closed its doors last summer. Reportedly, even Nigella Lawson was distraught. Months passed and the venue stood empty, until arriving at present day where it has been charmingly restored back to its lovingly warm wood-panelled family pub. Today it fills up with locals (all whom you sense haven’t seen each other since it closed), business trippers who’ve fallen away from Russell Square, and people like me who end up in pubs all over the place, as if by accident.
Confit duck and leek terrine with piccalilli arrived first. It was the meaty and flavoursome terrine we’d anticipated, spruced up with a freshly prepared cauliflower and onion relish, which I much preferred to the classic cornichon accompaniment. My pal chose cured salmon with kimchi and squid ink which — kudos to presentation — looked magnificent. It comes layered with flavours that remain a mystery until you delve in. To her horror, upon slicing a cross section the squid ink is everywhere. This stuff was served icy cold and pleasantly inked its way into the tangy and fleshy raw kimchi-salmon combo.
For main, you’ll choose between comforting sounding dishes that teeter between slap-up and pub grub. This includes pork belly and mash, grilled hake, and haddock and chips. We chose the steak hangar with bone marrow butter and fondant potatoes. We were told the dish would likely require sides, yet were baffled on realising we’d be teeing up our steak and potatoes with an extra serving of potatoes. You can order chips, truffle chips, mash, and spring greens. This seemed odd considering that almost all of the dishes on the menu were already served with potato of some description.
The steak arrived, topped with the marrow butter and positioned carefully beside three fondant potatoes, all evenly spaced from each other. I’m told fondant potatoes can be a challenge to cook if you don’t have the know-how. The Lady Ottoline’s were fantastic: slightly browned with a rich, buttery flavour. The steak hangar, which I was surprised to see on the menu, was sadly very tough. Steak aficionados drool over its tenderness and full beefy flavour, but this muscly piece of meat with blood leaking over my plate was very chewy and a little fatty. We peered over at the dastardly large piece of haddock and hand-cut chips being served on the next table. Our side of chips were a light, fluffy and crispy, delicious choice.
We finished up with Lady Ottoline’s apple crumble served with vanilla anglaise. The archetypal apple crumble is a thick and gooey mash of apples, two-thirds apple, one-third crumble, sickeningly topped with custard, enough to drown it – but not quite. You think you want it, but you never need that. This pub’s crumble is served up as cubes of spiced apples, smattered with granola-style sugary crumble. It was sweet and light – a charming finish to our meal.
For more London date night options, click here
The look: Burberry trench coat (FarFetch), Philipp Plein amnesia jeans (FarFetch), Nicholas Kirkwood velvet loafers (MatchesFashion) and Alexander McQueen off-the-shoulder blouse (FarFetch), teamed with Ray Ban club round classics, and Fenty Beauty candy venom lipstick (Harvey Nichols)