Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
On some other fur?
This anonymous little ditty refers to the British romantic novelist Elinor Glyn (1864-1943) who popularised erotic fiction but it may as well be about her much earlier namesake, actress Eleanor “Nell” Gwyn (1650-1687), famed mistress of Charles II, by whom she had two sons. It is said that pretty, witty Nell and the Merry King trysted and dined in this riverside inn in Hammersmith, known from the 18th century onwards as The Dove.
Some few years later, in1740, the words of that most patriotic of British songs ‘Rule Britannia!’ were written in this very same inn on the Thames by poet James Thomson, ironically, to celebrate the ascension to the throne of the German King George I. Later put to music by Thomas Arne, it is traditionally always sung at the Last Night of the Proms in The Royal Albert Hall and symbolises the might of the British Empire and its dominance over the waves.
Coincidentally, at exactly the same time as this year’s promenadeers were lustily bellowing out that “Britons never, never, never will be slaves” and waving their Union Jacks, bristling with national pride and nostalgia, the Lovely Husband and I were indulging in that other very British institution, an evening out at the pub.
Set in a 400 year old historic Grade II building, The Dove boasts the world’s smallest bar room, according to the Guinness Book of Records. A succession of small, dark, low ceilinged, wooden beamed rooms opens up first into a small conservatory and then on to two terraces, one set above the other like an eyrie, picturesquely overlooking the river, the moored boats and architecturally impressive Hammersmith Bridge. It carries its age well, with no suggestion of tweeness or touristy chocolateboxiness. To all intents and purposes, it is an ordinary boozer with wooden floors, scratched tables and well worn chairs, all adding to a sense of relaxed cosiness. Clearly, it is very popular, with locals crowding around the bar and every table taken, inside and out, despite the encroaching autumnal chill. Punters have brought their dogs; beer and conversations flow liberally and the there’s a happy, buzzy vibe.
The menu is surprisingly ambitious and a far cry from the usual pub grub, especially in a place that does not bill itself as a gastro pub. We are intrigued.
We order a shared starter of Smoked Mackerel Paté with Crème Fraîche, Pickled Cucumber and Golden Pride Sourdough. When it arrives, it turns out to be wonderfully tasty, smooth and mousselike, the sourdough bread fresh and flavoursome, the pickled cucumber sweetly zingy. A very satisfying combination indeed. Surely this level of deliciousness is pure fluke in what is just a pub after all.
I dither over ordering Monkfish with Ink Risotto, Chilli, Bok Choi and Saffron Aioli. I fancy it but can’t imagine that the kitchen here is up to that level of food. The Lovely Husband goes for the more reliable option, the Chalcroft Farm Burger with Mrs. Owton’s Bacon, HSB Gouda and House Chips. You can’t really go wrong with a burger, can you? For those of you who are wondering who Mrs. Owton is, I can tell you that she is the wife of Farmer Owton, and that the Owton Family Butchers have been farming Chalcroft Farm for over 600 years. Wow!
Well, shiver me timbers! The food is extraordinarily good, quite unbelievably fabulous! The monkfish perfectly cooked, firm but juicy. The risotto, and let me tell you that I normally consider it sloppy mush for the toothless, exquisitely kernelly, and inked just so, the long red roasted chilli pepper giving it marvellous heat, the saffron aioli a creamy, garlicky counter balance, the bok choi adding crunch and greenness. Oh, my word! This is pure bliss on a plate, every mouthful a joy!
The Lovely Husband is no less blown away. Burger? Pah! This is heaven in a bun! Succulent but not fatty, and Mrs. Owton has done one hell of a good job with her bacon! It contrasts with the gouda in the most delightful way, offering a stunning symphony of taste and texture. Needless to say, the chips are properly awesome too. We are completely gobsmacked and not far off from licking our plates clean.
For pudding, we choose the De-constructed Lemon Cheesecake and Raspberry Coulis with Halva Sauce. This too is gorgeous. I’ll grant you that ultimately I would, perhaps, prefer an ‘undeconstructed’ version with a tiny bit more tartness to it, but I like the crunchy crumbliness together with the cool soft filling and the halva sauce for sweetness. It’s interesting, different and hugely enjoyable, all the same.
Eating at The Dove has been an unexpectedly outstanding dining experience, there are no two ways about it. It is so, so nice to have food of such high standard in a very characterful but completely unpretentious environment. I’m smitten!
Then comes the bill. Excuse me? Hello? What? £70 including a lovely bottle of Chenin Blanc and a cup of really good Brewer’s Coffee? 35 quid a head? It seems quite fantastically good value, almost too good to be true for a gourmet meal in a historic riverside location in London. But there it is, in black and white and no mistake. Little wonder that this place has inspired a famous courtesan, seduced a king and birthed an anthem of national importance. The Dove is an Ode to Britishness at its very best.
What I wore
Black Gap 1969 skinny jeans, black Hermes Belt (not shown), monochrome long-sleeved star T-shirt by Baukjen, red patent French Sole Ballerinas, black Hermes Birkin bag, red leather Amaya Arzuaga jacket.
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