Our last London meal was a bit stressful. We needed a place that would be quick, didn’t require a reservation and was near where we had stored our luggage. Oh, and ideally, the restaurant would be atmospheric and the food delicious… With these caveats firmly in place, we found ourselves at The Eagle, a gastropub in the Clerkenwell neighborhood of Islington.
When I use the word “gastropub,” what I really mean in this case is The Gastropub. The team behind The Eagle were the first of London’s pubs to not only start serving dishes beyond the usual pub fare of bangers and mash or fish and chips, but to also create the genre of food itself. In fact, if you look up gastropub on Wikipedia, there’s a photograph of The Eagle at the top of the page. Seriously.
It was a typical British day (sunny in the morning, bullet-sized raindrops by mid-day) when we squeezed in amongst the crowded tables. The Eagle is incredibly popular; we luckily snagged two stools at the counter overlooking Farringdon Road. From there we could watch the activity behind the bar, where immense sausages were frizzling away on a flattop grill. We also had a great view of the dining room itself; it’s a massive, window-lined space full of tables, mismatched chairs and squashy looking sofas underneath a pressed tin ceiling and framed with hunter green walls. It was also absolutely packed with loud, chatty Londoners tossing back pints and ordering their lunches up at the bar, where the day’s offerings are chalked up on blackboards.
While I warmed my wet feet on the radiator underneath the narrow counter, Keith got in line at the bar. He decided to go with a few of the aforementioned sausages; I chose the chicken, ham and mushroom risotto (£8.50), mostly because it’s a dish I have no patience to make myself. The thought of all that stirring makes my arm feel sore even now, as I sit comfortably on my sofa, nowhere near a stove.
The Eagle’s risotto has a lovely creamy texture, and the dish wasn’t laced overwhelmingly with mushroom. It was also neither laced overwhelmingly with any other flavor; the rice was almost too subtle, and I found myself adding liberal amounts of both salt and pepper to my plate, something I very rarely do. In all fairness, each bite of chicken was especially tender and the ham was amazingly juicy — it was just the rice itself that I found a bit lacking. Perhaps lacking is not the most appropriate word to use here. I think missing is more accurate.
The menu at The Eagle begins with very English cuisine like Keith’s sausages, and then moves across Europe to land squarely in the Mediterranean; aside from my risotto, the chalkboard listed both a Spanish fish stew and similarly-styled grilled prawns. It doesn’t matter if you prefer to stand on the British or Iberian side of the culinary fence, since a trip to London’s first gastropub shouldn’t be skipped. The risotto, on the other hand… Well, I’ll leave that up to you.
159, Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3
+44 020 7837 1353