It’s been almost 20 years since my first visit to London. Even on my first trip, I found it strange that I saw plenty of restaurants advertising a good curry or stir-fry but not a whole lot of British food apart from the occasional pub or fish and chips stand. I remember asking our hosts why and was told “Well, because British food isn’t any good!”. I don’t remember if I thought that was true or not because when you’re 11, all you want are McNuggets anyways but we’ve all heard something similar…that the local cuisine in the UK just isn’t very tasty.
But as Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain and other food personalities have shown us in recent years, that just isn’t true. There’s plenty to like about the food in a country stereotyped by fish and chips, roast beef and bland, boiled vegetables. Yes, there are people that like that as Top Gear‘s Richard Hammond has demonstrated but there’s also plenty of chefs reclaiming British cuisine, using the wide range of locally available ingredients that speak for themselves.
Gastropubs, in particular, are popping up all over as people now want a decent bite to eat to go with their pint. After a night of looking for decent Chinese food in London, I decided I wanted to take my family for a good British meal in town. Luckily, right near our hotel at West India Quay was an interesting little pub called The Gun, a place with all kinds of great history, including being the regular bar for British hero Lord Horatio Nelson, the dude you see on a column in Trafalgar Square. Yep, The Gun has been a bar for over 250 years.
It is, of course, renovated since a fire destroyed much of the interior in 2001. The decor is elegant and refined with simple white tablecloths and a neatly uniformed service staff. However, they’re still a pub so there’s no need to put on your tailcoat and top hat, casual dress is just fine…although I wouldn’t push the definition of casual. They’re also open on Sunday for dinner, which is more rare than you’d think. I’m guessing most people go out for Sunday lunch and cook Sunday dinner.
The menu is constantly changing at The Gun, depending on what’s fresh and an seasonal. I can already see after a quick look at the menu that none of the things I had two weeks ago are still on the menu apart from the steak, which is always on the menu. There are also daily appetizer and entree specials as well, which sell out quick.
This beef bone marrow with herb salad and toast (£7.50) was one of the daily specials. If you’ve never had bone marrow before, you have no idea what you’re missing. It’s like a rich, smoky, concentratedly meaty jam that you spread on some crispy toast, well balanced by the sharp, slightly bitter herbs. Amazing.
I missed their beef daily special by just minutes so I settled on their regular sirloin (£27) instead. They’re described as “45 day aged rare breed steaks (served on the bone) with béarnaise or green peppercorn sauce, watercress and hand cut chips.”
The steak is well-cooked and great flavor. Although the nice sear was only on one side, they got the medium rare right. The green peppercorn sauce is the perfect accompaniment. Not too peppery with a slight tangy sweetness. Notice there’s another piece of bone marrow that comes with your steak, which you can scrape out and spread all over your sirloin along with that half a bulb of roasted garlic like I did. I totally forgot to take a picture of the chips but they were nice golden brown wedges.
I also had a bit of the other plates at the table. This is a veal loin (£19) with garlic mashed potatos and young carrots. Tender and bouncy meat with a silky jus reduction.
Stuffed saddle of rabbit (£23) with shaved asparagus and fingerling potatoes. Another perfectly cooked dish as the tricky-to-cook rabbit is still moist and tender.
The slow-cooked lamb (with creamy polenta, £22) just glistens it’s so juicy. Great classic combo with the red wine sauce and polenta.
Thought about getting a beer or two but decided on water instead…before I remembered that usually means fancy bottled water in Europe. I can’t really distinguish water from water but it was fine…clean and neutral tasting (like much of our water here in Canada).
I had a great time at The Gun. Service was superb. Attentive without hovering, extremely professional and friendly. The only complaint I have is that The Gun isn’t the easiest place to get to, located a good 20 minute walk from the nearest underground station or bus stop. I have a couple seniors in my family that don’t do long walks that well so that was a bit of a problem. I find that a little strange as the Docklands is one of the most rapidly developing areas of London, full of towering skyscrapers and business districts…a far cry from iron foundaries and gun makers that used to fill the area. For weekday lunch hours, they have a free taxi service that will bring you to the restaurant from anywhere in the Docklands and back.
Summary: There’s no reason to think British food is terrible anymore. There are still terrible British restaurants but every type of cuisine has places I wouldn’t want to eat. The Gun is a fantastic example of upscale, modern British food, using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients and enhancing them. The menu is exciting and isn’t afraid to go with gamey meats like rabbit or deer. The cook on the different meats is particularly excellent, leaving each moist, tender and juicy. The Gun is well acclaimed in London and it’s easy to see why.