Priests hiding in holes in the walls, olde worlde charm and fine dining – The Ship Tavern in Holborn has it all
A 2 minute walk from Holborn station and down an alleyway is a pub nearly 500 years old and filled with history. During the reign of Henry VIII, Catholics would gather for mass in the bar whilst lookouts were posted around the neighbourhood watching out for the King’s men. When the signal was given that they were approaching the area the priest would hide in one of the hidey-holes in the wall or the secret tunnel which can still be found in the cellar. The assembled congregation would grab a tankard each and make out like they were just regulars standing around in a pub. Not all of the priests escaped and were butchered where they stood.
That sort of thing alone would make me visit the pub but if you go upstairs to the Dining Room you will be rewarded with some exceptional food. Pubs are increasingly stepping up to the mark and providing some very worthwhile fine dining experiences. I had read the menu online so made sure to leave plenty of room, I was salivating at the thought of the delicious dishes and couldn’t wait to get started.
First course was the King Scallops and rabbit meatballs for me. What can I say? Perfectly cooked, translucent scallops and the meatballs were a triumph. If you’ve never tried rabbit before then this is a good place to start. The flavour was not too strong and the sage balanced out the rabbit just right. My guest had the braised ox cheek with parsnip and honey puree. A dish rich in flavour it was a very generous portion for a starter. Meltingly soft, the ox cheek was well received albeit not finished, we still had 2 courses to go and needed to save room.
Having made an exemplary start we moved on to the main courses. For me it was the venison steak au poivre (pepper) with haggis and potato pithivier (when was the last time you saw a pithivier on a menu?) and my friend, Lady C, opted for the pan-fried halibut with razor clams and samphire. This may be a fine dining restaurant but one thing it is not is nouveau cuisine. The portion sizes are very good and sure to quell any hunger pangs. The venison was cooked to my asking (MRare) and was delicious. Chef has done his research and gives a modern take on traditional dishes. I haven’t seen a savoury pithivier on a menu in years and it was absolutely divine, I even enjoyed the haggis!
I think it is pretty safe to say we ate like kings. Henry VIII would’ve been pleased to have eaten our British fayre if he hadn’t been hunting down those priests. The dining room sumptuously decorated with wooden panelling, candlelight and tastefully chosen paintings, is a feast for the eyes too. If you can, grab a booth by the leaded windows. Finally, the wine list is very good, in particular the sauvignon blanc & Malbec and if you’re an ale drinker, the 6 Cask Marque ales should quench your thirst. The Oak Room is also available for private hire should you need somewhere centrally located with easy access to transport. The Ship Tavern is surely in my top 5 pubs to eat in London so far and I don’t say that lightly. Mum and Dad take note, next time you visit these shores, this is on our list.
Sign up for my email newsletters here and keep up to date with all the happenings in London and beyond.