Review: The Anchor
The revamped Anchor leaves JESS FRANKLIN with an empty purse but a full stomach…
After its summer revamp, the Anchor Pub is now the “new look Anchor pub”, set “a stone’s throw away from Queens’ College and its stunning mathematical bridge”. I wouldn’t say I was “stunned” by the mathematical bridge, but I certainly saw it. As for the pub’s “new look”, it’s a successful attempt at the clichés of modern dining – chalkboards are hung from Farrow & Ball ‘Mole’s Breath’ walls, glossy white tiles frame an opening onto the kitchen, distressed floorboards and country-kitchen tables parody the smart-casual, and tap water comes in glass carafes. It’s a safe aesthetic which says “we serve fresh seasonal food using locally sourced ingredients, cask conditioned real ale, craft beers & wines.” And, coincidentally, their website says just that.
The pub’s done well to shed its carpeted past, where fried onion rings were served with battered chips and tempura vegetables. One only need look back to Trip Advisor reviews by the likes of “TreeTops09” to be glad for The Anchor’s overhaul:
“I enquired what ‘special’ meant and was it homemade. I was told sometimes it is homemade, sometimes it isn’t.” – TreeTops09
We’d booked a table, but it took a while before a member of staff came to seat us. Perhaps due to the exceptionally muted colour scheme, the service was conducted at leisurely pace for most of the evening. We were seated in a cosy corner by the bay window, surrounded by the usual array of silent couples, perhaps dumbfounded by the stunning mathematical bridge. They varied in age and tragedy, but had in common an apparent enjoyment of their food, which was able to induce the occasional nod or mumble where their partners were not. This is relieving, for their evening was bound to be an expensive one.
The Anchor’s menu, while mouth-watering, was eye-watering in equal measure. Starters were in the region of £8 and mains were £18-£20, meaning that a few of us settled for bread to start (though this came with a surprising bowl of Dukkah, presumably inspired by cult cook and middle-Eastern must-have Yotam Ottolenghi).
To start I had seared scallops and a seafood paella. The ingredients were good; the squid was tender, the mussels small and tasty and the scallops were sweet and mellow. A morsel of chorizo added some Hispanic authenticity, though more was needed to whisk me away to the Mediterranean climate of swarthy visages and olive-skinned musculature. The rice itself, however, was stodgy and overcooked, and the peas had been added to the mix too early, making them stale when they could have been fresh. My enigmatic dining companion Esme had smoked haddock with a coddled egg and soldiers. Its traditionalism fits in with the culinary trend for the English retrospect – where bread and dripping is a starter and chips are wrapped in newsprint. The presentation of the starter in ramekins was attractive, and the inscrutable Esme conceded that it was “very nice”.
My main of slow braised beef shin, horseradish dumpling, mash and carrot was more memorable. The beef was sumptuously tender and genuinely slow-cooked and the gravy gravy had been reduced to a Marmite-like intensity. The boiled carrot was a good counterpart to the richness, though the dumpling was stodgy and chewy and the horseradish undetectable. The mash too was nothing special –rather dry and inconsistently smooth. The whole dressed crab was unimaginatively presented with a dull salad, inexcusable for its £18 price-tag, though it was the first time my Jewish friend (whose name I daren’t divulge in case this article is brought before him at some Rabbinic tribunal) had tried crab, so its staid preparation was eclipsed by an atmosphere of celebration, and the illicit.
Esme’s pork was presented on its own chopping board – a device to provoke reactions such as “wow” and “look at that!” The meat was tender and flavoursome, though it came with some over-buttered greens and leathery roast potatoes. The accompanying jus was a rather distasteful appropriation of barbecue sauce, which is perhaps what the sphinx-like Esme meant when she said it was “good”.
Only one of us had dessert though it proved to be a memorable gin & tonic sorbet whose well-balanced bitterness was sophisticated and refreshing. A bottle of house white, two starters, four mains and a sorbet came to £108.08, making this a place no longer fit for students, and while thought had gone into the dishes, they weren’t different or special enough for the price. Then again it is a stone’s throw away from that stunning mathematical bridge.