Is the County Arms a local pub or a destination restaurant? This is the question facing many of London’s hostelries, especially those that go in for an expensive revamp and end up looking like something out of Homes & Gardens. The menu can then suffer something of an identity crisis: does it stick with tried-and-tested pub grub or take on pretensions to be something else, especially with main courses at £15?
The County Arms, owned by Young’s Brewery, is a case in point. This massive building of 250 covers has been cleverly divided up into bar area, restaurant, lounging around area with sofas and cushions and outdoor barbecue area, making the whole place seem less cavernous.
According to the manager, the menu is ‘constantly evolving’. This was rather puzzling given that we were regaled with a board of specials that, puzzlingly, would be staples in most pubs: ale and beef pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash and soup of the day.
Feeling a tad more adventurous, we opted for starters off the menu of wafer-thin smoked venison, orange and beetroot salad (£6.75) and the excellent goats cheese and red onion marmalade tart with red chard salad (£6.25) – a triumph of melt-in-the-mouth pastry and warm, oozy cheese and a good light meal in its own right.
The main course of saddle of lamb with root vegetable gratin, green beans, star anise jus (£14.50) featured well-seasoned but rather overcooked meat, good gratin and a jus that sounded as if it wouldn’t work, but did – the aniseedy spiciness complementing the lamb really well (a side order of potatoes, brought automatically, was definitely surplus to requirement). The beer-battered haddock and chips (£10) were fantastic: the right thickness of batter, good fresh piece of haddock, excellent mushy peas and chips that were almost like wedges, with skin on to fool you into healthy mode.
Desserts from £5 were satisfactory but not wildly exciting: treacle tart; pecan pie, vanilla cheesecake, cherry pie, sticky toffee pudding. The exception was the more interesting coconut and poppyseed sponge, mixed berry coulis and creme anglaise. It was also good to see British cheeses (organic Perl Wen brie, stilton, Keen’s cheddar) on offer.
The wine list here is to be applauded: wines start at £15.50 per bottle and we were delighted with our Alta Vista from Argentina (£18.25), made from the fresh and aromatic Torrontes grape. A real find.
The County Arms is trying hard and making all the right noises about provenance – meat and poultry from the West Country, game from the Highlands of Scotland and locally produced ingredients where possible. If the County Arms is to live up to its slick new image – definitely more County than Country – then it may need to be a bit more adventurous on the food side too.
The County Arms
345 Trinity Road
Tel: 020 8874 8532