It must have been, oh, about five years ago. CrowsFeet, his missus and I had contorted ourselves into a corner of the Charles Lamb and were contemplating food from a tight menu that, tellingly, had sold through on its stand-out dish. The lady had just joined us from work, I think, and it was all a bit hectic. We weren’t feeling it so we left.
Diverting along Liverpool Road, we were thinking Drapers, maybe, but came to The Barnsbury first. They were smashed out and, on enquiring tentatively as whether they had room for three, we were shown to the only available table, a round, squeezed just inside the door. It was about as comfortable a fit as we’d relinquished at the Lamb but, having been made feel very much as though they’d prefer it if we stayed, and despite the warning that food would most likely be a while, we hunkered the hell in. Food was a while. When it did come though, in line with how popular the place appeared, it was really decent. I had a confit duck leg with cassoulet, as I remember, and we had a good night.
Fast forward to last evening and the cut of the Barnsbury’s jib is decidedly different. They’re using the door on the opposite side as the main entrance now, creating a more natural angle from which to channel punters in toward the bar. The other notable difference is that, relatively speaking, there’s no one here. The unwelcoming glare of blinding light from those customised, upturned-glass chandeliers may have something do with that. There’s no attempt here to generate anything approaching an ambience despite, as I say, the thoughtful, quirky fittings. It feels very much as though they’ve just called time, even though it’s still only 10pm. They don’t just carry any old thing in the way of product here either. I mean, it’s not the most cutting-edge concept, but there’s great condition Brew Dog on draft, one or two unpredictable guest ales, stuff a beer snob wouldn’t sniff at by the bottle, and an attractive display of premium, top shelf spirits. They just don’t seem given to selling any of it up or to keeping people there once they have them in. The guys behind the bar would appear capable, but also bored, distracted, and not to give a rat’s arse, particularly, about the quality of customer experience. Weird.
I haven’t looked into it but if I was to venture a guess as to whether the Barnsbury’s undergone a change of administration since last we were there, I’d have to go with ‘yes’. Last night Liverpool Road felt like a village high street that’s recently been by-passed, its pub like a local that’s presided over by someone who’s in it just for giggles and spends most of his or her time on the golf course. A few tweaks and it could be canny. Just now it’s about good enough for a swift one.