The first time we went to the Marksman pub, we were shouted at. They were under different management then, and our hostess was ired because we had turned up at the end of Sunday dinner and asked for mussels. NOBODY who knows ANYTHING about food asked for mussels late on a Sunday, she told us. Sheepishly, we had them anyway, and they were very good. So good, I took my family back for my birthday lunch months later, which was also very good. But it’s always a mistake taking my family anywhere I’d like to go again – she berated them for different things on different dishes, and they gave as good as they got. Probably worse. After that, I didn’t go again, bar for a quiet drink, in the corner, out of sight.
Then, we moved away from Hackney Road (all the way to Dalston!) just as the pub changed management and got a brand spanking shiny new menu. Sigh! Then, it won the Michelin pub of the year. We decided it was worth the trek. We would go for a Sunday roast.
We booked a 12.15 slot – it was either that or 6pm onwards, so you know there were going to be busy. It also meant we were the first to arrive, and sat awkwardly in an empty room with more wait staff than customers, which always makes me PARTICULARLY squirmish. However, the room started to fill up within the first half hour, and by the time we left there was barely space to move.
They offer two price options on a Sunday – two courses for £26, or three courses for £30. As my sweet cravings run almost exclusively to fizzy rings and / or Cadbury’s fruit and nut, we chose the former. To be honest, I would have preferred to just have the one course (a whopping great big roast), but if I must eat more, SO BE IT.
I went for the cured trout, kohlrabi and creme fraiche to begin. The boy went with a clams and cream sauce number (forgive me, dear reader. I forgot to take a picture of the menu EVERYTIME and often have to rely on the sample menu on the website. His dish isn’t on there – and my starter reads mackerel, but it was most definitely trout. Or salmon? No, I think it was trout).
My dish was sublime. The lightest, crispest waif of toast added texture. Rich, sumptuous fish cut through bright creme fraiche and the zing of pickled kohlrabi (no idea what that was prior to this dish, but I LIKE it). A symphony.
The boy fared less well. Not because it wasn’t good, because it was – but because it was 12.30pm, and we’d only got up an hour ago, and he was essentially eating shellfish cooked in double cream for breakfast. I did WARN him – I’d make the same mistake once before elsewhere, and I lived to regret it. It just sits heavy in your stomach, coating everything you eat for the rest of the day. Having said that, he mopped the plate clean with some bread, and he had a milky coffee alongside, so maybe it’s just me (oh, and the whipped butter! I nearly forgot about the whipped butter. Light and fluffy and as as salty as you like. Buy the bread, just for that).
We both went for the same main – roast Tamworth belly and burnt apple (that WAS on the sample menu). Then we ordered a Yorkshire pudding and the cauliflower cheese and hazelnuts as a side, even though she said it came with all the trimmings. Which you’ll see from the picture – it really bloody does. And NOBODY told us it was a WHOLE bloomin’ cauliflower. Jesus Christ, it was the size of a baby’s head, drenched in white cheese sauce and sprinkled with nuts (now that’s a weird mental image). I’ll get that out of the way first because we didn’t like it – I am more of the ‘would you like some cauliflower with that cheese?’ persuasion. This was the wrong way around. We ate less than half (a damning statement, indeed).
Now back to the good stuff. I am aware that I have said ‘this was the best ____ I’ve ever had’ (that space is just asking for trouble) in all x3 of my most recent reviews but THIS WAS THE BEST ROAST I’VE EVER HAD. We’ll break it down in order of priority (already a sticky subject, because I’m VERY tempted to put Yorkshire pudding first, even though they traditionally only belongs with roasted beef).
First, the pork – ‘mmmm’-ingly melty fat, topped and tailed with a layer of thick crackling crust and juicy, tender flesh. Here, being the first to order (and served) worked in our favour – everything arrived fresh, piping hot – the pork belly and the potatoes benefiting from this the most. I know that, because it took me some time to work round to my second slab of pork, and by that time the meat had already firmed a little and the fat set. I shared that with the boy, although I cut off all the crackling first (I’m not an idiot).
Potatoes were that perfect dichotomy between crisp and fluffy; the Yorkshires were, not only giant, but firm on top, soggy on the bottom (especially once we had drenched them in a double portion of gravy, which was glossy, unctuous, and as always, not enough for two – hence the extra order). There was a rich, sweet carrot puree and a thick wedge of celeriac for veg (again, we’ve argued over this because I didn’t ask the waitress – I think it was celeriac, not parsnip. I’m sure of it). Somewhere hiding beneath the meat a few neat cubes of burnt apple. I would have liked a little more of that and less of the carrot puree, but when all the flavours were combined they had a similar effect, and to be honest I was too busy stuffing it down my face to care.
Overall, the bill came to just over £70 for two, including service (and with no alcohol). The waiting staff was excellent, the new decor on par (I’d never been to the upstairs dining room before, either) and the whole experience bloody marvellous. Worth the twenty five minute walk, for sure.
254 Hackney Road
£70 for two, with service
Four and a half out of five stars (I don’t want to spoil them)