Magazine article The Spectator

The Salisbery Tavern

Magazine article The Spectator

The Salisbery Tavern

Article excerpt

FULHAM has been the up-and-coming thing for about as long as Nasa. Back in the Seventies, it was tipped as the next Kensington. In the Eighties, it was still being tipped as the next Kensington. Through the Nineties, great things were spoken of the potential of SW6. And yet it is still, well, Fulham.

The Sloanes and City types have multiplied, edging out the old working-class families; Fulham Football Club has few fans who still travel to Craven Cottage on foot. Golf GTIs and Range Rovers fill the residents' parking bays and houses are nudging the million pound mark. But, if the demographics have changed radically, the local restaurant scene has not.

Stalwarts such as the Blue Elephant (Thai food in fluffy surrounds) and the more recent Montana (adventurous American) continue to pull them in but dining options in Fulham remain, for the most part, a choice between a pizza, a burger or a plate of nachos.

All of which may have something to do with the instant popularity of the Salisbury Tavern. This is the latest venture of Longshot, an up-and-coming restaurant group which has established roots in Chelsea with the refurbished Admiral Codrington pub and Vingt-Quatre, the head-swivelling, open-all-hours celebrity cafe by the Fulham Road cinema.

With the Admiral Codrington - `The Cod' to its regulars - Longshot took a famous Sloane watering hole and gave it the `gastropub' treatment with the addition of a decent restaurant. The Salisbury Tavern was a rather different prospect, being the sort of place where a chap with a Barbour and a braying voice would be more likely to end up eating hospital food than crab and avocado salad.

`This place?' asked the cabbie. `Bit rough, isn't it?' Apparently, it had once commanded a formidable reputation as a `fight pub'.

Longshot have not just redecorated the old pub but, effectively, rebuilt it, adding a large extension to house a 75-seat restaurant in addition to the bar. The bouncer on the door suggested that the Salisbury may not have shed its glorious past entirely. Inside, though, it could have been a pointto-point carpark in Gloucestershire. `It's Sloane Central,' my friend Catherine observed as we walked in.

To the left, a large bar area echoed to the honk of hilarious recollections of Biffy's 21st birthday party or tales of mooning and misdeeds in Meribel. Those pining for the authentic ambience of the apres-ski happy hour in the Alps will find it here. To the right, quieter but still bustling, was the eating half of the joint. This was no pub dining section but a fully fledged restaurant in its own right - and a decent-sized one at that.

Within the first five minutes, there was a bray from an adjacent group (along with some clanging namedrops) but the tables were sufficiently far apart for it not to matter. Too many restaurants squeeze tables, especially tables for two, into rows which would do justice to the economy section of an airliner. Here, Catherine and I had no shortage of space.

The menu is the modish combination of modern British clubland plus a few quirky touches, all overseen by the executive chef Charlie Rushton, late of the Mirabelle.

Catherine started with the special of the day, grilled halloumi with roast vegetables and pesto. `A clever combination . . like the pesto touch . . . nice and herby,' she cooed between mouthfuls.

I ordered the tarte tatin of onion and goat's cheese, a surprisingly subtle blend of flavours thanks to a chevre somewhat milder than the stinkers some chefs like to lob into their starters now that goat's cheese is trendy. …

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