12:51, Highbury

Please note that this review is from April 12, 2022 and may be out of date...restaurants sometimes get better, get worse, employ a new chef or end up with new management.

It was the weekend of the now roughly bi-annual parental inspection (not that they’ve been to Harrow) and I’d booked the highly-rated 12:51 in Highbury to try to hopefully impress the folks.

When I was in San Diego the other week I messaged my mother to confirm that she would visit me if I moved there. The response was, “you’re joking, right”.

But they still come to London, courtesy of the wonders of Hull Trains (yeah, real company), and we can all pretend that we are cultural and stuff. Well, we are from the UK’s City Of Culture. Well, it was the UK’s City Of Culture in 2017. It beat Dundee, Leicester and Swansea to get the prestigious title.

So we went to the Francis Bacon exhibition. Yes, I did pose outside with a bacon sandwich next to the Bacon exhibition sign.

Francis Bacon picture definitely not a portrait of David Beckham.
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I was particularly impressed with his portrait of David Beckham.

1066. The queen lost her knicks.

Well I think I’m going to get on with the review if you don’t mind. No boobs, minimal nonsense and even less gravy. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting much gravy from 12:51 – there is an AA sign on their website which suggests to me that the tank had run out of gravy. Oh and a Michelin sign, which suggests that they have no tyres also. How exactly has a tyre manufacturing company ended up being the worldwide judge of good food?

I don’t think 12:51 actually has a Michelin star. It is in the Michelin Guide, but I don’t think that means much. The chef behind 12:51, James Cochran, has worked at two-Michelin-starred, The Ledbury – which I guess means that you can put the big tyre man on any website for any restaurant that you run or work at for the rest of your life.

But I’ve done even less research than 12:51 supplied gravy, so all this could be nonsense.

What I can tell you is that the restaurant is thin. Surprisingly so when you walk into a narrow room, a narrow and nicely-decorated room, with a cosy feel – albeit a cosy but cramped feel.

Our table of 4 was not designed for people with elbows. There really was very limited space – I’ve had more space on the dancefloor at fabric nightclub than I had here. Some of the tables do allow more space, especially those for two people, so if you are, erm, larger than, erm, recommended by the national religion, then maybe, erm, consider your options. I am large. Not large large but large enough. In fact, I was technically overweight on Thursday beforehand, but after a diet of sausage roll, pizza, southern fried chicken and cake on Saturday, I was technically obese by Sunday. Yeah, I know BMI ain’t a perfect measurement. Don’t have a cow. Oh that was last week.

There is a good point to 12:51 being so small, and that is that I didn’t need to be shown how many calories were in a roast dinner. I am really not looking forward to my illusion/delusion of the average roast dinner ticking up around 750 calories being shattered.

She licked her bum.

12:51, Highbury, Roast Dinner Menu
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So your options were to have a sirloin of beef roast dinner, or go to another restaurant. I’m quite happy with that as an option, priced at £25.00.

I guess if you didn’t want a roast dinner (why are you reading this?) then you could have had a selection of snacks, and called it tapas. They don’t even offer a vegetarian option on the menu, but when speaking to the waitress later, she did suggest that they do offer one, basically replacing the beef with asparagus. Gosh, check me out being useful to vegetarians.

The roasts took around 20 minutes to arrive and were in the format of “build it yourself”. Or perhaps “build it yourself but don’t expect to have any gravy on it”. I even predicted it:

GIVE ME KUDOS. Actually, give me some awards. Awards, money, a job in San Diego and a sexy Latino wife.

So he grilled Hispi cabbage was really quite excellent. Soft yet charred and somewhat smoky – you are going to ask me what the sauce is though, aren’t you? So this is the point where I do my best impression of a politician and say, hey look, they have a collaboration with Sauce Shop, who I was only talking about yesterday on Twitter with one of my more distinguished followers.

It was something similar to alioli though.

The cauliflower cheese was also excellent. This I can tell you tasted of truffle because it says on the menu. But also it did taste of truffle and also of cheese. Perhaps the cheese could have been crisped up a bit more, yet my accomplice claimed it was the best ever cauliflower cheese. I’m not quite so profusive, but it is up there with the best ones.

And said yum yum.

Finally in terms of vegetables, were the roasted onions. Nicely roasted and a little charred – they had quite a sweetness to them.

Shall we play a game of Dim, Dom, Non-Dom?

Dom, Dim, Dim Dom and Non-Dom
It’s a meme.

Of course, we should be very thankful to Rishi Sunak’s wife for realising after 9 years of living in the UK that she lives in the UK and will now pay tax on her UK earnings. We are so blessed.

According to Dim, we should “play the ball, not the man or his wife”. Pretty sure paying tax is playing ball, but what do I know, I’m only lowly PAYE.

Lingerie models were more fun weren’t they?

But that was last week. Let’s get back to moaning about roast potatoes…

Hang on. The roast potatoes were actually quite good. Fairly crispy on the outside, not as soft as they could have been on the inside – the larger one was too al dente, but in the grand scheme of London’s roast potatoes, they were quite good. I cannot say that I noticed the beef dripping flavour, but hey, this is me.

It tastes like Weetabix.

Before we go on, I’d just like to clarify that nothing here tasted like Weetabix. You probably don’t read the headings so it’s fine. My SEO app makes me write some. Maybe by roast dinner 300 I’ll have come up with a good heading schema.

12:51, Highbury, Sunday Roast
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The Yorkshire pudding was also pretty good. Arguably a tad too oily on the base (though I cannot say I was offended), it was freshly made, crispy on the outside and soft on the bottom.

You’ll be pleased to know that the sirloin of beef was excellent. Sizeable enough though I’d always love more, quite a portion of very tasty fat on it, nicely rare, well salted.

There was some beef shin which was quite a contrast to the sirloin. Rather an earthy taste and texture, yet also succulent and flaky. I preferred the sirloin but I don’t want to detract away from what is a very nicely cooked and more unusual cut. Ideally, it would be the star of the show in its own dish, but please do not take that as me moaning.

However I do have something to moan about, and I’m not just talking about the Metropolitan maintenance team who have apparently fucked up the wheels of half the trains. We asked for extra gravy 3 or 4 times before it finally arrived. I’d slowed down my eating just so it didn’t arrive once I’d finished…though I was also taking in turns with my father to the left of me to use the elbow room between us, which slowed me down too.

The gravy was nice enough, but it wasn’t a wow. Quite thin but there was some consistency, a very slight smoky flavour but otherwise it was lightly complimentary. The rest of the often excellent food could talk for itself. You could even argue that the rest of the meal didn’t need gravy. Could. I mean, you could argue that Boris Johnson hadn’t misled parliament. You could argue that Brexit hasn’t caused the queues at Dover that only happen to be on the British side.

12:51. They are a restaurant.

Best roast dinner of the year? Nearly.

Much of the food and the flavour here is excellent. The cauliflower cheese was top notch, the hispi cabbage and its sauce of no knowledge was great – and the sirloin was excellent too.

There isn’t much in the way of easy improvements. I wasn’t taken by the onion, but it was nicely done. The roasties could definitely be improved as they weren’t quite soft inside – but when do I not say that? Most weeks I have far worse to say about roasties. And the gravy could have been thicker, could have had a more notable flavour and could have been MORE, but you know, the food here really was mostly excellent.

I feel that I’ve talked myself into a higher score than I was going to leave, however the squeeze on that tiny table, and the pressure on my chest muscles as I tried to eat was discomforting. That and the struggle for gravy were pain points.

Service was good (well, apart from having to keep asking for more gravy…though maybe they were like “the guests were good, except for those asking for more gravy”), I liked the decor and the feel about the place – there was a pleasant kind of daytime disco soundtrack with good quality speakers – yet you could hear both your guests and the music, which is rare when venues get that right.

We had some Portuguese red wine which was nice – it had a slightly light and airy feel, and a pint of Freedom Pale Ale, which one assumes is named after the festival in Hull.

Scores around the table ranged from an 8.20, an 8.80 and a 9.00 out of 10. The latter being my mother’s score, though she was wary of not understanding the system. It’s just how you feel, really. THERE IS NO SYSTEM. I make it up.

I’m scoring 12:51 an 8.44 out of 10, which puts it in the top 10% of roast dinners in London, at the time of writing. The only better roast dinner in 2022 so far was The Gladstone Arms, but that was an Anglo-Indian roast – so if you think that a roast dinner with an Indian-spiced sauce isn’t a roast dinner, then I guess 12:51 is the best roast dinner in London this year. Either way – consider putting it on your to-do list. I may well be back on a Saturday night.

Next week I’m away for Easter, but the week after I’ll be back. Going for a roast with my vegan ex-boss, and we are going somewhere proper wanky. You can probably already work out what borough of London it is in.

Francis Bacon picture with boobs in
© Copyright – Roast Dinners In London 2022

I know I said no boobs, but…Johnson.

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12:51, Highbury

Station: Highbury & Islington

Tube Lines: Overground, Victoria

Fare Zone: Zone 2

Price: £25.00

Rating: 8.44

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Loved & Loathed

Loved: Excellent beef, cauliflower truffle cheese was top notch, the hispi cabbage was ace too.

Loathed: Space constraints, really difficult to get extra gravy - roasties could have been softer.

One response to “12:51, Highbury

  1. My Lord, I must tell you in all seriousness, I have visited Dundee, Leicester and Swansea and beating them to City of Culture was not as prestigious as one would expect from such an exalted honour. And I’ve been to Hull…and back.
    Freedom brewery is also not connected to Beirut…I mean Hull, it’s actually not far from me in Abbots Bromley Staffordshire, damn fine beers indeed.

    The roast looks good, think I’d happily exchange a tablespoon of stewed shin for another slice of sirloin, that smacks a bit of filling out the plate cheaply, but then again £25 is very reasonable for Islington, and said chef Cochran did win Great British Menu on the TV!

    Ah the great (or not) gravy debate, I don’t subscribe to the North/South argument, I was born in Essex, spent my formative years in southern Ireland, before moving to East London and now reside in darkest Lincolnshire, so I’ve had good/bad gravy at all four points of the compass. Now what I can’t fathom is why restaurants like 12:51, who only do roasts on a Sunday, haven’t got a big pot of gravy ready, they’ve had all week to accumulate beef bones, chicken carcases, bone marrow etc, to build that gravy during the week culminating in its rich velveteen quality on Sunday morn.
    Now there is a pub near me that does a reasonable carvery, usual meats, all the vegetables you could imagine, but right in the middle of the serving table there is one of those cast iron soup cauldrons, 5 litre jobby, filled with unctuous dark meaty gravy and a ladle big enough (almost) to scoop up all of Tony Blairs lies in one immersion! Chatting to the owner one day I asked him how much his dark cauldron of deliciousness cost him to make…£2 give or take a penny!!!

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