Ethical Dining at The Duke of Cambridge
With its quirky interior and affluent clientele, The Duke of Cambridge is just one of many laid-back London haunts to boost the gastropub phenomenon. The food’s a little on the bland side, but what sets this pub apart is its sound ethical stance.
SET a few blocks back from bustling Upper Street’s main thoroughfare, the pub sits quietly amidst the terraced houses and tree-lined boulevards of residential Islington. It prides itself on being the UK’s first and only gastropub to be certified by the Soil Association, and since 1998 both its food and drink menus have reflected an organically sourced, independently produced bill of fare.
In the bar by day you’ll most likely find the odd media type quietly tapping away at their laptop or relaxing reading The Guardian. It’s not until evening that the pub really takes on the dimly-lit, den-like persona it suits best. There’s the usual eclectic crowd of stylish thirtysomethings with palates for sophisticated food, but despite the well-heeled surroundings there are no pretences here; both the clientele and staff are generally welcoming and friendly.
The venue’s interior typifies gastropub-chic with wood floorboards, weathered furniture, bare brick and eccentric touches – the odd mirror hanging here, pickled onion jars sitting there. Enter the rear restaurant from the main bar and it feels like walking into a country barn house; all cosy and rustic. The fact that they’ve opted to write the ever-changing dinner menu on a blackboard instead of paper is another nod to their ethical principles, although at times it is difficult to read the white chalk if you’re unfortunate enough to sit at the opposite end of the room.
Made from seasonal local ingredients with British and Mediterranean influences, the cuisine here is fresh, healthy and refined. A particular highlight is the pear, walnut, gorgonzola and rocket salad which combines several intense flavours that complement each other perfectly, from the rich, gooey gorgonzola to the crisp, juicy pear. The cured salmon with boiled egg, balsamic vinegar, beetroot, bread and butter is substantial for a starter but is missing that zing factor; added seasoning or herbs would give it a much-needed kick.
For the main course, the generous serving of roast pork belly with carrot mash, cabbage and apple sauce spiced with strong cinnamon flavours provides a traditional British staple, and the Portobello mushroom, fennel and spinach risotto is saved by the fine dose of parmesan shavings.
From the dessert menu there’s your choice of hearty classics including lemon cheesecake, chocolate almond cake, pear crumble with custard, and the customary cheeseboard.
Famous for its extensive organic wine and beer list, The Duke also boasts a fine catalogue of organic spirits and non-alcoholic drinks including traditional English lemonade. Organic beers include Freedom lager, Pitfield N1, Sam Smiths ale, Ridenburger Weizer Premium, St Peters Best Bitter and Eco Warrior Pale Ale. On the cider front Westons and Luscombes offer refreshing British brews that taste more like apple juice than alcohol.
Overall the cuisine here ranges from high quality to ordinary, which is a shame because the dining experience itself (both the service and surroundings) can’t be faulted.
First published on The London Word, October 2008.
© Abbey Stirling