To call St Bart’s Brewery a pub doesn’t quite do this stylish new eatery justice.
Boasting a slick interior with industrial lighting and sharp metallics, underscored by a rustic, soft edge, it is the newest venture from The Cunning Plan Pub Company opening last month in London’s Farringdon, close to St Paul’s and a stone’s throw from Smithfield Market.
An upmarket gastropub come live music venue, with a private cocktail bar on the side for good measure, St Bart’s is a place where thirsty office workers looking to blow off steam after a long day and diners alike can mingle comfortably, sipping down craft ales, premium ciders and a selection of English wines, or tucking into a three-course feast.
Owned by Richard Balfour, the previous owner of Malmaison and Hotel du Vin and owner of Kent’s Hush Heath Estate winery, I came expecting a certain level of quality from St Bart’s given the reputation of its boss.
It’s a Tuesday evening when we arrive and people are already spilling onto its pavement enjoying the afternoon sun.
Making our way to our table on the venue’s second floor mezzanine we settle down enjoying a privileged position overlooking the bustle of the bar below.
Its mismatched tables and chairs, wooden floors and huge movie set-style steel lighting give it a laid-back, hip vibe that’s in no way pretentious.
King scallops with bacon and caramelised pineapple
Perusing the venue’s drinks list its allegiance to British, locally sourced and small-scale wines, beers and spirits is clear.
Craft beers include London brewery Meantime’s Pilsner, as well as speciality fruit beers Belgian brews, with a pleasant quirk being that all cask ales, and any beer on request, can be served in a rather swanky steel tankard.
Kent’s Hush Heath Estate, owned by Balfour, is of course strongly represented with a rosé, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sitting alongside a variety of premium ciders from its Jake’s Orchard range.
With Jake’s Orchard nettle sparkling cider (£25.50) light in colour and housed in a 75cl bottle complete with cork, you would swear the waiter had brought you sparkling wine rather than cider, while clearly demonstrating the venue’s awareness of a trend for super-premium ciders.
After careful consideration we were sold on a bottle of 2012 Gnarly Head Pinot Noir (£32) – a beautiful full-bodied wine from California.
With thoughts turning to our stomachs, the food menu is pleasing offering a concise and assuring selection of modern British fare such as the St Bart’s pie of the day served with hand-cut chips (£14.95) alongside some more off-beat plates including its welsh lamb burger with onion bhaji, mango salsa and Westcombe cheddar (£13.95).
Head Chef Kalifa Diakhaby hails from The Ivory Coast but was raised in Paris with previous posts at London’s L’Oranger under Jason Atherton and with Stephen Terry at Cecconi’s under his belt.
He later worked at Malmaison and was Head Chef at Bistro du Vin and the Fox and Anchor. Arriving at St Bart’s, Diakhaby has made a statement of intent to present “classic British food with modern European influences”, his signature style.
Breaded Somerset pork with fried duck egg, anchovies and capers
To start, I plumped for the King scallops with bacon and caramelised pineapple (£7.95) – a perfectly balanced dish with the saltiness of the bacon cutting deliciously through the sweetness of the pineapple, flavours which happily did not overpower the delicate scallops.
My other half went British picking a generous charcuterie of English cured meats; Yorkshire ham, Suffolk salami, Gressingham smoked duck, chorizo, Oxford blue and char-grilled vegetables (£7.95), presented on a wooden board served with bread.
Cambridge burnt cream with lemon madeleine
For the main event, I went for what I thought was one of the more unusual dishes on what was a confident, yet well-worn menu – breaded Somerset pork with fried duck egg, anchovies and capers (£15.95).
I could not fault the size of the portions with the cutlet, lightly fried and tender, filling the width of my plate, and the saltiness of the anchovies and capers controlled so as not to overpower the dish.
Across the table arrived a 500g Aberdeen sirloin served on the bone (£26.50), perfectly seared, lightly pink and enormous, so much so we had trouble finishing it.
On the side we sampled the kitchen’s fennel fritters with chilli mayo (£2.95) – a tasty accompaniment.
Amazingly we managed to make it to dessert, feeling it our duty to sample as much of the menu as possible.
For me, this meant Cambridge burnt cream with lemon madeleine (£5.50), while my partner chose the blackcurrant jelly with vanilla ice cream (£4.95).
Breaking to check out the loos, an important consideration for any would-be diner, I was pleased to see the venues outwardly urban-rustic charm had been maintained with exposed wood chip walls, mason jar lights and exposed steel pipes adorning each cubicle.
Blackcurrant jelly with vanilla ice cream
For those looking for a more lively night out, the venue puts on live music on Thursday, Friday and Sundays, with a DJ setting up on Saturday nights.
The venue also boasts its own private bar, The Balfour Bar, a 30-seat nook nestled at the back of the restaurant with copper tops and plush seating perfect for a private function.
In short, my first experience of St Bart’s Brewery was a positive one.
While its somewhat dual personality will not appeal to everyone, St Bart’s Brewery treads the fine line between live music venue, pub and restaurant with charm and aplomb.