On a buzzy Friday night we were invited to Public House for dinner. The name suggested boozer but we couldn't picture the location on Islington Park Street. The website yelped elegant bar and the sample menu made us salivate. Were we going to a pub or an upmarket eaterie?
Both, as it turns out. A mash up of aspirational fine dining, buckets of booze, cocktails to fit your mood and candles to make you look more gorgeous than you are. Public House is run by Simon and Mat, affable chaps who operate this unassuming shop-shaped lounge-bar-restaurant with a bunch of mates, lending a raffish, blokeish air to the pretty and eclectically furnished room.
These guys know their booze. A local at the bar advises us never to ask for drinks but to tell the bartenders how we're feeling so they can create something perfect to hit the spot. Perched at the homemade bar, we're treated to Mat's Champagne Cocktail which puts us in a heavenly mood. He complains about his kidneys and cracks open a beer while Simon tells us that the cowboy hat adorning a dummy was obtained for their 'Trannyween' night in October and offers us a taster of his elegant Pinot Noir. We feel right at home in the middle of these contradictions.
At dinner we try 'heritage beetroot and pigeon escabeche with cinnamon & pomegranate dressing' (pictured) and 'confit of leek with speck, soft boiled egg & hazelnut dressing'. Both are carefully prepared, the pigeon perfectly cooked and make tasty starters. They also look smashing. For mains we had 'pan fried duck breast, confit chicory and chestnuts' (mmm seasonal) and 'Halibut with baby carrots, salsaphy and lemongrass veloute' (delicate sauce and veg, huge spanking fish fillet) with some veg on the side. Our waiter offers a smart wine recommendation and manfully fields our questions about the sustainability of the fish on offer (we let him off the veal inquisition).
Forcing down a shortbread stack with raspberries and chantilly cream and a scrummy cheese platter, then quaffing Simon's favourite Armagnac we conclude that Public House can't quite decide what it is, but that doesn't matter. It's shot through with the personal taste and style of the boys behind it and throws something different into the much crowded Islington pot - an observation borne out by the fact the place is packed by the time we finish our meal. Prices are comparable to any other Islington gastropub (ie it's not cheap) but you certainly get a different ambience here. Laid back with fine aspirations it's a perfect original date venue; like you're in a friend's front room but with excellent service. You could easily become a regular at the bar if their cocktail concoctions hit your sweet spot and, discreetly located off the beaten Upper Street track, it has the feel of a secret place that you'll be rewarded for discovering.
Public House is at 54 Islington Park Street, N1. Open Mon-Fri, 5pm-12 and weekends 12-12. Tel 020 7359 6070 for reservations or just drop by for a drink.