It’s too late to shut The Garden Gate, the chef’s bolted…

Drunks of the world have argued for centuries over the most effective cure for an acute case of gueule de bois, and so I won’t enter into the debate (Creamy Scrambled Eggs and a Bloody Mary, always!), however it is widely acknowledged that food is no bad thing, and we often attempt to wipe away the woes of a boozy Saturday night with a proper Sunday lunch. This cues much bleary-eyed mashing of laptop keys, and endless searches for “best Sunday lunch in London”, invariably followed by “best Sunday lunch in NW3” – because the prospect of having to trek across the big city to, frankly, anywhere with an “E” in the postcode is an awful prospect at the best of times, let alone when paired with a sticky mouth that suggests the consumption of a couple of dozen jäegerbombs the night before.
It was such a search that led us to The Garden Gate. “Ooh, look at that, apparently it’s home to the best roast potatoes in the world, and it’s right next to the overground.” Sold. Of course, by the time we got off the overground at Hampstead Heath the exact location of the promising potatoes was but a blurry memory, and so a few cold and rainy minutes were spent wiping sticky finger marks from the phone and trying to find the bloody place. Naturally, it turned out to be less than 20 yards away, but had carefully hidden itself in order to prolong our hangover woes.
We walked in through the courtyard garden, not the most tempting place on a rainy day in march, but come the summer it will be full of promise, green plants and nooks and crannies where endless warm days could slip by in a beery haze. Enough of that fantasy, though. The main bar and dining area was busy and noisy (a good sign) and having persuaded the welcoming though busy waiting staff to move us to a slightly less public table (the one originally offered was directly inside the front door, though that is an assumption because the name on the “Reserved” sign bore only a passing resemblance to the one given over the phone), we were waited on quickly and attentively throughout.
So on to the food, and by that time it couldn’t come quick enough. The menu was in many ways similar to any food-serving pub that you could walk in to, with such staples as field mushrooms on toast or chicken liver pate to start, and Caesar Salad, burger or fish and chips to fill up with, and a fair choice of puddings (one of the few places I’ve been recently where trifle is on offer – joy!). Staunch traditionalists that we are, though, Sunday lunch is about one thing only, and the choice of roasts (Pork, Beef, Chicken or Nut) was appetising enough.
I went for the Norfolk Pork, and was rewarded for my choice with a plate that certainly resembled the description given (i.e. all the constituent parts were there), but could perhaps have benefitted from a few moments more of TLC – while plates arrived gratifyingly fast, we’ll never complain if a slower service accompanies food that is clearly made with love. The pork itself was of a moderate standard (Norfolk is, of course, a large county and so the name doesn’t bear any guarantee of quality), though had been allowed to dry, perhaps after a prolonged sit under a bright and hot lamp, so that by the time it reached the table it bore more of a resemblance to school food than I was necessarily hoping for. The accompanying crackling was perhaps a tad under-seasoned, but certainly crackled, almost as much as the rather charred and flat Yorkshire pudding (more of a Yorkshire pancake). An assortment of vegetables lurked beneath, and while the mixture of kale, carrots, parsnip and turnip were all tasty and nicely added substance to the rather thin gravy, like the meat, they had all seen perkier days. Which leaves only the potatoes, and how high my hopes were for those supposed world-class beauties. Yes, reader, you guessed it, those hopes were dashed, because the famous roast potatoes appeared to be of the variety that you buy pre-cooked and frozen in LIDL… and they were overdone. The shame.
GG, contributor to hangover woe, opted for the Rib of West Country Beef, and gives much of the same feedback – cooked rather longer than the ideal, thin slices and a small portion (the same could be said of the pork), and so in all a rather disappointing lunch. It filled a gap though and that is all we were after, and came in at a reasonable £32 for two people (with a soft drink – the prospect of real drinking was just too terrifying for words). It was decreed that we would take pudding or tea elsewhere. Next weekend I think we’ll be braving the hungover hike to a less convenient locale, though a summer beer in the lovely garden here is most definitely on the cards.
The Garden Gate, 14 South End Road, Hampstead, NW3 2QE. 020 7435 4938.
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