Holborn’s Best Kept Secret
I do love good pub grub, and especially when the grub in question is available in an olde worlde type of spit and sawdust tavern; and, The Ship Tavern in Holborn, London is exactly that type of establishment. Only 3 to 4 minutes walk from Holborn Tube station, and tucked away down a lane betwixt Kingsway and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, The Ship Tavern is a bit of a culinary jewel in the crown of good London pub-grub eateries. I went there a few weeks ago with a friend for lunch, as was pleasantly surprised by its cosy interior, fabulously fresh seasonal food and it’s very convenient location. We were led upstairs to the Oak Room, where polished wood and candles created a warm and friendly ambience. The menu suggested seasonal meat, fish and game as well as a splendid selection of puddings and some very innovative starters.
Dorset rock oysters, merlot vinegar & shallots: £2.75 each
Soft shell crab fritter, crab salad, caviar, chilli oil: £9
Rabbit & tarragon meatball, soba noodles with spring onion, ginger & chilli, red wine jus: £9
Pan-fried monkfish tail, roast beetroot purée, salsa verdi & quail egg: £10
Crumbed & deep-fried brie, rocket leaves, cranberry sauce: £8
Salt & pepper calamari, spring onion mayonnaise: £8
Seared scallops, garden pee purée, crispy pancetta & blackberry: £11
Wild mushrooms flashed with brandy, parsley, garlic, toasted brioche, rocket salad & herb oil: £8
Braised oxtail faggot, celeriac purée, spinach: £9
Soup of the day, home-baked bread & trio of butter: £6
My companion and I chose the Seared King Scallops with Rabbit and Sage Meatballs on a purée of Garden Peas with Lemongrass Oil (£11) as a starter; the scallops were large and juicy and were cooked to perfection – pea purée seems to be the omnipresent accompaniment for scallops nowadays, but the dish was elevated by the addition of meltingly tender rabbit meatballs and the lemongrass oil cut through the richness with citrus aplomb. The dish was garnished with “micro” salad leaves and herbs and was a wonderful start to the meal.
We sipped a glass of chilled rose wine, whilst we waited for our main courses – I chose the Pan-fried Halibut with swede purée, razor clams and samphire (£20), whilst my friend opted for the house special, a Tavern steak burger with mature cheddar, smoked bacon & caramelised onion jam in a brioche bun with pickled ‘slaw & hand-cut chips (£14). My fish was cooked top perfection and the combination of razor clams and samphire was a fairly well-trodden taste path, but if “it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it”! I also opted for a side dish of buttery spinach and the iron richness was perfect with seafood and fish combo.
My friend’s Tavern Burger was a towering triumph of beefy deliciousness, she said….made with minced steak and adorned with Cheddar cheese, bacon and onion jam, it did look very enticing, despite being served on the ubiquitous wooden board. Large “hand-cut” chips accompanied the burger along with pickled coleslaw, which comprised the usual suspects of cabbage and carrots with the addition of pickled onions. She asked for it to be served without the latest fashionable “brioche bun”, which was an excellent decision in my opinion. She said the burger was moist and tender, with “bags of steak flavour” and I must admit it did look very tempting.
Desserts or puddings as they are called, and quite rightly so, were offered and the choice was delicious…….
Downies chocolate brownie vanilla pod ice cream: £6.50
Pistachio & almond sponge, pistachio ice cream, Pistachio praline : £7
Passion fruit panacotta, raspberry coulis: £7
Sticky toffee pudding vanilla pod ice cream: £6.50
Petit fours – white chocolate & baileys truffle, chocolate brownie, lemon tart, pistachio sponge,
vanilla choc ice: £6.50
Homemade ice cream – 1549 Real Ale / vanilla pod / Pistachio: £6
Homemade sorbet – raspberry / passion fruit / mango: £6
British cheeses – grape & apple chutney, banana & walnut bread, biscuits: £3.50 each
Cashel Blue – mild tasting, creamy blue cheese. Ireland
Cornish Yarg – creamy hard cheese wrapped in nettle leaves. England
Swaledale – full flavoured cow’s milk with an earthy almost grassy taste. England
Perl Wen – delicious, creamy, Brie-style cheese. Wales
Maryland Farmhouse Cheddar – waxed mature Cheddar. England
Gubbeen – buttery milky taste with scents of meadow flowers and hazelnuts. Ireland
We both opted for the rather interesting looking cheeseboard for dessert, as well as a latte coffee (with macaroon) to end with. The cheeses were all from Ireland, England and Wales and were served with Banana and Walnut Bread, Biscuits and a Grape and Apple Chutney. The meal was exemplary from start to finish and the service was attentive but discreet. Surrounded by antique paintings, with books and trinkets adorning the candle draped mahogany walls, I also spied a fireplace for chillier days and evenings…..the Oak Room has a feel of bygone days, but the food is very much modern and up-to-date British with a definite seasonal and locally sourced provenance angle. A fabulous hidden gem in central London and I can whole heartedly recommend this as a charming and tasty place for lunch. Karen
Disclaimer: I was offered a review meal free of charge for me and a friend; I retain editorial control and full editorial integrity. Karen Burns-Booth
Oak Dining Room Hours:
Monday – Saturday
12am – 10pm
12am – 9pm
Last Food Orders:
Monday – Sat
The Ship Tavern
12 Gate Street
Tel: 020 7405 1992
The Ship Tavern was established in 1549 and has been at the heart of Holborn’s social scene for nearly 500 years. The original Tavern was then only half the size as it is today and constructed mostly from timber. Its main purpose was to quench the thirst of exhausted labourers who were tending to the nearby fields, now partly Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
As well as being a public house, The Ship Tavern has served many purposes in its lifetime. Notably during the despotic reign of Henry VIII, Catholics would sneak into the Ship Tavern to attend mass, conducted by outlawed priests who would conduct mass from behind the bar. Lookouts would be posted around the neighbourhood, and a pre-arranged signal would warn the congregation when the king’s zealous officials came in to view. The warning would, hopefully, give the priest time to escape into one of the several ‘hidey-holes’ (some of which still exist today) and allow the congregation time to take up their tankards and become just another group of regulars in a pub. Some priests were not so lucky and were discovered hiding in a tunnel in the cellar and were executed on the spot.
Their chilling screams can still be heard to this day.
The Ship has featured in many haunted publications on London including ‘Haunted Walks of London’.