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The Peasant, London EC1

A gastropub that has retained its Victorian pub heritage

The Peasant is located in the Northern end of St John Street, nearer to The Angel than to Smithfield. It's a notable contributor to the revival of Clerkenwell which now has a number of excellent eateries including Moro, the Clerkenwell Dining Room, Le Café du Marche and of course the eponymous St John. This grand Victorian pub has been updated in a very sympathetic manner, the bar at street level is more comfortable, thanks to a scattering of sofas and a blazing fire, but the original pub atmosphere hasn't been lost. Upstairs is the restaurant, which you might not realise is there. The walls are adorned with circus posters and memorabilia and there's a wonderful old baker's table to provide both a focal point and a useful station for the waiting staff.

The chef is Giancarlo Vatteroni, who was responsible for the inauguration of the kitchens at nearby Moro and also the Lighthouse at the opposite end of town in Wimbledon Village. He's a very international sort of chef, so you might only find the occasional Italian dish (the night we visited there was pannacotta, and an antipasto misto) included in his robust menu. It changes quite frequently and I therefore missed out on January starters of pot roast hare and steamed baby octopus.

Instead, we began with  "Warm roasted cauliflower and piquillo pepper salad, kalamata olive dressing and shaved parmesan" - yes, Giancarlo gives you the full shopping list, whose ingredients made an agreeable enough melange. Rather more outstanding was the "Organic salmon tempura with avocado, fermented barley dressing and crispy red onion rings". The avocado purée base was perhaps a little over spiced, but the tempura was light and dry, and the salmon was perfectly timed and the onion rings really were "crispy". It was a world away from the more usual pub fish, chips and onion rings, where "battered" truly means abused.  With our starters we tried various glasses of white wine, including a very crisp Sauvignon de Touraine and a gutsy white Rioja from Bodegas Muerza.

My guest wanted to try the "Pan-fried free range chicken breast with chorizo and sweet potato mash and Gai Lan". Our charming Spanish waitress explained that Gai Lan is Chinese broccoli. The chicken was tender and contributed some of its own flavour rather than being merely a vehicle for appliqué flavours. The roast wild Scottish venison is a stunning dish - don't miss out on it if it's still on the menu when you go to The Peasant. The thick, pink succulent slices of Bambi come on a bed of confit aubergine,  given extra flavour and texture with raisins and pine nuts and a few dried cranberries for addtional piquancy. I enjoyed every mouthful. This was partnered with a fruity Provencal red from the Domaine de Triennes, which at £20.00 is halfway up the price range of a carefully chosen list that starts at £11.75 and contains some 25 wines to choose from under £25.00.

I felt duty bound to sample Giancarlo's pannacotta, which was dark with tell-tale vanilla seeds and tasted really good. My guest was intrigued by the thought of "Italy attacks, Cold Fusion and Space Junk", apparently the latest in cool ice cream, but suddenly he suffered an English attack of chauvinism which could only be cured by a comforting plate of Neal's Yard British cheeses with toasted sour dough and walnuts.

I wish I had such a good local pub that offered an interesting well executed menu, plus a fantastic Sunday brunch with as much black pudding, corned beef hash cake and haddock kedgeree as you can throw a rolled up Sunday supplement at. The Peasant certainly enhances life in Clerkenwell.

Restaurant price guide: Starters £4.50 - £7.40; Mains £9.50 - £ £15.80 (for the venison); Puds mostly £4.70
Bar prices start at £1.90 for light bites, to around £7.00 for platters to share, and £9.50 for a chef's dish of "slow cooked pork belly on soft polenta with black eye bean, cavolo nero and potato" (shopping lists provided free!)

Clifford Mould February 2005

The Peasant, 240 St John Street, London EC1V 4PH

Tel: 020 7336 7726

Email: eat@thepeasant.co.uk  - Their website has details of location and latest menus, events etc:  www.thepeasant.co.uk

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010


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