Outed via a competitor’s website as an impostor to their original concept, The Jolly Butcher’s on Stoke Newington’s High Street comes over, regardless of who you believe and which came first in regard to the claims laid, very much like the film of the book. Not shy of redeeming features in its own right, it’s arguably a more polished yet embellished take on what the recently reviewed Southampton Arms clearly regards as its own original text. On a ‘Tarantino steals everything from Scorcese’ tip, I don’t necessarily see that there’s too much the JB’s has done wrong except hold its hands up to its Kentish Town contemporary having pretty much hit the nail square on the head with their offer. That, and copy their signage almost exactly. Well, no, exactly.
Seven ales sourced very largely from a cross-section of some of the best, most current producers are on handpump - among them BrewDog ( we drank Trashy Blonde, 4.1%, Rip Tide, 4.3% and Punk IPA, 6%), Dark Star, Kernel, Redemption and Thornbridge - alongside three real ciders and a fashionable collection of keg product, from Camden to Brooklyn and back again. The place is painted dark red, outside and in, with one rather garish, papered feature wall. Contained within a single room, the pub has one or two cracking features, most notably some attractively stained glass windows. It’s fairly charmless for all that, mind; it’s big and it’s loud.
The food at The Jolly Butcher’s is served from an open kitchen. Now, we’ve talked for and against this arrangement before, about how professionalism needs to prevail if you aren’t to divulge too many behind the scenes secrets (kitchen staff have been known to graze) or reveal more than you should about the stresses of producing quality under pressure. I’ve seen it done really well. But I’ve also intimated more than once that personalities from front and back of house can conflict where priorities, whilst ultimately shared, can seem in the heat of any given moment to be poles apart. And it’s here that lowering the curtain on the inner machinations of a pub/restaurant business becomes a genuine risk.
Christ knows what this waiter guy had done but chef was incensed about something. Not in too animated a way, more so in a sinister, physically in-your-face, whispering death way. His heavily tattooed neck, and the fact he kept giving this lad dead-eyes and muttering under his breath long after their one-sided exchange, and longer still after the bowl of dessert around which the set-to appeared to centre had been dropped off at table, just added menace to the whole piece. Poor bastard was scared to death. With this kind of visual dynamic, you need staff disciplined enough to take shit like that outside, and one wonders subsequently whether form over function here comes even close to compensating for the forfeited practicalities of a solid swing door. It only need spill over once.
A few streets over at The Londesborough, a pint of Bath Ales’ Gem preceded a roast which, having said all that, would probably have been warmer where we were. I couldn’t criticise the portion of Pork Belly I got for my money. In the end I needed help. But everything that came with both that and the lads’ Lamb (£16) had been sat for too long under/over inadequate heat while our meat was being prepared. And maybe for the hour or so beforehand.
Imposing building this, and a pleasant enough interior, even if it does smack of someone having converted a Boeing 737 into a cinema. Service was either well-meaning but incompetent (one lass cheerily invited the fellas, unusually and, it turned out, erroneously, to bring their bikes inside), or competent but arsey (the other moodily claimed that this would constitute a fire hazard – which it would - only in fairness to the guys they were all set to l0ck them up on the street before they were mis-informed…) The Londesborough listed their regular menu on a board even though it’s unavailable on a Sunday and then, once we’d decided from a card of what was available, they wheeled what we most likely would have had but were told we couldn’t, right past our table. Then they slapped service on to our bill even though we’d ordered everything, save for a bottle of pretty non-descript Malbec (£20), under our own steam. In most respects except for the company, then, fairly forgettable.
The Butcher’s is eminently worth a punt, though. It’s certainly popular and has its finger, if not on the pulse, then on somebody else’s in regard to its drinks offer. As a concept it’s sold with enthusiasm and the beer is competently cared for. Less can be said, on this occasion at least, for how it carries itself.