What is it with people that complain about the weather in this country? Winter is either too cold or not cold enough for snow, while summers are either too wet, or too hot.
As we near the end of (another) long and glorious London summer, I’ve heard an awful amount of complaining. In fairness, one group I do empathise with is the restaurant and bar trade. British buildings are designed for colder weather. London establishments often don’t have an outside space. The onset of good weather means for many places an exit of customers to those pubs and restaurants fortunate enough to have a garden or patio.
The Washington in Hampstead, which is actually on Primrose Hill, doesn’t have an outside space. Yet it is a beautiful old boozer with stunning original features that like most of London’s best architecture, dates back to Victorian times – 1865 in fact. A recent facelift has given the wood and decorative mirrored panelling a good polish, and the mosaic tiling bearing ‘The Washington Hotel” a shine, but otherwise it sits pretty much as it always has since the late 19th century.
What is new at the Washington is a basement bar, Martha’s. Once you navigate through its clever secret entrance (I won’t spoil the surprise), you descend to a large space, complete with industrial lighting, exposed brick, intimate lounge seating and curved leather booths. To make things that little bit easier, they have fitted each table is fitted with a buzzer connected to a reclaimed vintage hospital bell board, meaning drinks will not only come to you, but in style.
But of course, it was a warm August evening when I stopped by, so no one was working the bar, and even if they were, no one wanted to drink there. Because Martha’s is designed for an autumnal or winter birthday drinks or soiree, or even an Christmas bash. Undeterred I tried the food and the wine upstairs. A conventional gastropub menu saw us start with salt and pepper squid, and sun-blazed tomato hummus with celery, cucumber and toast. The squid was a little rubbery, but well flavoured. The hummus was divine – and I speak as something of a connoisseur in such matters.
We followed with the salmon fish cakes, creme fraiche, paprika potato wedges and coleslaw with celery seeds, and tried the upmarket KFC (so claimed our waitress) of Southern fried chicken with fries, coleslaw with celery seeds and a house pickle dip. The chicken was very tasty albeit a little dry. The fish cakes were light and well-seasoned although lacked a little kick. We were sold on the Sipsmith Sloe Gin Eton Mess, which was disappointingly light on meringue. So we got a creamy gin dessert with strawberries, which wasn’t what we were promised.
The Washington is a beautiful pub that is a great place to go for a drink. Martha’s looks potentially like a very good addition, but I’ll have to wait until winter to find out. Don’t you hate these long hot summers.
From * to *****
Boozing and floozing ****
Wining and dining **
Serving and Pouring ***