This week’s review is of The Flask in Hampstead. Whoa…that’s a sober sounding introduction.
So I normally start writing my review on a Monday morning, at least I do now I work from home. Yet I didn’t get very far this Monday. I wrote only the title – mostly because I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know if it was another goodbye.
The drumbeat of lockdown is approaching, the “something must be done” brigade are getting ever louder. The government’s wheel of covid misfortune has been spun, and hospitality is the loser – though a 10pm curfew is also part relief, as it could have landed on something much worse. Like masks in pubs. Urgh.
Yet by time I finish writing this post, it might well be a goodbye post. More pronouncements from our esteemed Prime Minister to come and with one of the 3 worst London mayors ever, itching to castrate the hospitality industry further, who knows where we will be by time I get to the part about how shit the roast potatoes are.
By the way, I’m referring to Sadiq Khan as one of the 3 worst London mayors ever.
Ahhh back in the days when only the crazies wore masks. Why did I use one of my few remaining pre-lockdown Sundays to go to Sadiq Khan’s favourite, Poplar Cafe? Oh for hindsight as good as all the Covid experts on Facebook. Now I am living like every Sunday is my last roast dinner adventure until 2021. Fuck knows what it is like for those actually running pubs and restaurants right now, not knowing whether to order enough food and drink for the coming weekend. And for those working there. And for those growing the food.
Oh, to go back to those pre-covid days where all we had to moan about was Brexit, Tinder and the tube. Hell, even the much-touted Festival of Brexit line-up that I was so excited about will have to change.
Would Farage need a mask to bang the Thatcher mannequin?
Gosh is it Wednesday already?
Ahhh another day passes and now we have masks in pubs. FUCK THAT SHIT. I haven’t got to the carrots and already the rules have changed.
And why the masks or the curfew? What evidence is there that hospitality is causing the recent spike in cases?
Vote for lying bastards and eventually the lies will bite you in the backside. Not that I did vote Tory in 2019. First ever general election that I’ve not voted Tory – I even would have voted for them in 1997 had I been old enough, despite everyone else in Hull voting for Tone The Saviour.
It could be worse, I guess
Erm. So I was walking to The Flask from Finchley Road, which is about as far as I can manage on the Met line before I end up gasping for air…still absolutely fuck all chance of me making it to south London this year. Soz. Best roasts are mostly north of the river anyway. Aha.
Anyway, I passed someone that I recognised outside another pub and shouted over to him. Someone I used to work with until around 8 months ago, an absolute gent of a guy (northerner, so this stands to reason). Quick chat about roast dinners because that is all people want to talk to me about…I’m pretty up on Brexit too but people tend to swerve that subject nowadays for some reason.
By some minor miracle, he was also going to The Flask for a roast dinner. And ended up on the table next to us. Not that we could communicate with each other as we were both tables of 4.
Famous Four at The Flask
The Flask is a Young’s pub, and you may remember that during the middle of 2019, I had a string of disappointing roast dinners at Young’s pubs. So many that they unfollowed me on Twitter. The Bull & Gate in Kentish Town was one, The Grocer in Spitalfields another…I forget the rest but there was about 5 in fairly short succession. I definitely remember being unfollowed though.
Yet I’ve had a few people this year tell me that The Bull & Gate do great roast dinners…well that certainly wasn’t my experience. I’ve also seen some really damn good looking roast dinners on the social media channels of Young’s pubs recently – The Lion And Unicorn is one that I’ve added to my to-do list, for example.
And I just remembered, the first roast of the year was in The Wheatsheaf, which is also a Young’s pub, and scored an 8.03.
So this was going to be a test of my re-found optimism towards Young’s pubs. It seemed from social media (granted not always the best place to judge reality) that they have really upped their game this year.
Arriving at The Flask
We arrived a little early but our table was ready – the room itself was empty. We attempted to use the Young’s On Tap app, but we didn’t have any mobile signal, so signed onto the wi-fi – which required Track & Trace – and then the Young’s On Tap app still didn’t work.
A pint of Gamma Ray was soon forthcoming through traditional means of waving at staff until they see you, and another hangover could be soothed away.
On the menu was beef striploin with braised feather-blade, pork belly or half a chicken. My photography skills apparently deigned to include the prices – I remember the beef being £19.50 but I don’t remember the others. Just make it up. Prices will increase when Kent leaves the UK anyway.
I think I’m ready to move on to talking about the food…but I’m just not 100% sure that I’ve finished my rant from earlier. Have I? Then again, I need to stop writing and start work in a minute…so by time I pick up my metaphorical pen I’m sure I’ll have some new restrictions to rant about.
Our roasts took a good 30, maybe 40 minutes to arrive, which is longer than normal but perfectly acceptable when you are having a good time…I was far more interested in drinking beer than eating and had the honourable company of London Popups – second most important food blogger in London.
So starting with the red cabbage which I still do not appreciate. This was fruity and tangy – the flavour had been brought out really well. Except that I don’t like red cabbage, and of course, the little bits of red cabbage get everywhere.
There were two halves of carrot, nicely roasted and rather tender. Yet I still had some strands of red cabbage. There was a parsnip also, but I don’t really remember it. Sorry.
Then I got stuck into the chunky moon of good cabbage. This was charred on the outside, nicely soft as I was eating it, and I enjoyed it. Yet I could still taste the red cabbage – by this time from slight seepage into the gravy, and it did also become tougher to eat as I got to the core.
I need a flask of gravy
It was at this point that I started hearing murmurs of joy from my accomplices and I couldn’t quite understand why. I tend to eat the parts I like less first, especially something I really don’t appreciate like the red cabbage which I just get out of the way before anything else is even considered.
And now I was eating a roast potato. I don’t think I’ve had a good roast potato since China unleashed this virus on an unsuspecting and unprepared world. There will likely be a second pandemic before I get a good roast potato at this rate.
These were at least soft. They were edible. They just weren’t proper roast potatoes. You know when you just chop potatoes and stick them in the oven without boiling or chuffing them first? They were like that.
Roughly around this point I remembered that we had cauliflower cheese, which we had ordered as a side at around £4.50 a pot, but I don’t recall exactly.
This was unbridled joy. Easily one of the best cauliflower cheese dishes that I’ve had on my adventures – cooked with Beauvale blue cheese, this had a real impact on the taste buds, and had everything else you’d expect in terms of texture and creaminess. Rather exquisite and fabulously cheesy. Wow.
The Yorkshire pudding was decent. Thankfully not too large (I will lead the trend back to small yorkies), quite crispy but softenable by gravy.
Have I used the flask of gravy heading yet?
I think it’s time to talk about the gravy. At the beginning, the gravy was infected by red cabbage, but ample extra gravy arrived – and once this was added, the flavour of the gravy shone through and my appreciation of the roast dinner greatly improved. Sure, it could have been thicker but the gravy increased the enjoyment of the whole roast, as it should, and as it too often doesn’t.
Finally, the beef. This came in two parts, the striploin was generous in volume – two large and relatively thick slices, bordering on the medium-rare. Really nice.
And then the braised feather-blade – wow. This was melt in your mouth kinda beef, so hearty and flavoursome. Two wow’s in one roast.
By this point, I understood the murmurs of joy from my accomplices – it went from a bit whatever, to really, really enjoying the roast dinner. Every bite I just enjoyed more than the previous.
Yet I cannot forget the parts which were imperfect – the roast potatoes, of course, the gravy could have been thicker and my dislike of red cabbage. Though it isn’t really fair to penalise much on scoring them for a personal dislike.
On the flip side, both the cauliflower cheese and feather-blade were wow. The gravy tasted nice, non red-cabbage veg was good and the rest of the beef was tasty – and notably generous in portion size.
Summary, scoring and a bit more coronamoaning
My accomplices who all succumbed to joyous soundings before I did scored it very highly. Scores of 8.10, 8.52 and 8.58 across the table. I messaged my friend on the next table (is that still legal?) and he said a “strong 7”. He doesn’t quite know my scoring system.
I’m scoring it a 7.88. It was a very good roast dinner with two wow moments dragging the score close to an 8. And I don’t think I can justify an 8 without crispy roast potatoes.
I will be back this coming Sunday. Well, I will be attempting to get into the place that I have booked without making a complete dick of myself trying to explain to people just doing their job that masks don’t work, whilst doing my best Piers Corbyn impression. Do you think he gets laid more than me?
I have a plan anyway. Urinate on the street outside so I don’t need to go to the toilet – or just get so drunk the night before that I am so dehydrated and don’t need the toilet.
Snort drugs on the table instead of going to a toilet cubicle. Gosh maybe a mask could even come in useful there to hide it.
Finally, always be 10 minutes late so that whoever I am meeting arranges the table and orders drinks in time for my arrival. I’m sure I can handle 30 seconds of being dehumanised as I walk to my table where my drink is ready for me.
And if it is all too much of a ballache then sorry, I’ll be calling time out until after the rules are relaxed…though I’m starting to think that I’ll cope. Fingers crossed that this isn’t the death of hospitality as many suggest it will be.
Though it might not be in my hands anyway, with 45% of the British public thinking these changes do not go far enough – which can only mean closing pubs at best, or lockdown at worst.
Since when did around half the UK population think it a good idea to fuck the economy over? Oh yeah, 2016.
Sorry for being so ranty and less funny than normal. Even less funny than normal. Not easy this week…no idea how I’ve made it to Thursday without drinking.
At least it’s raining again.
The Flask, Hampstead, North London
Tube Lines: Northern
Fare Zone: Zone 2
Loved & Loathed
Loved: Blue cheese cauliflower cheese - sensational! Braised feather-blade was melt in your mouth.
Loathed: Roast potatoes, shock horror. Curfew, masks, red cabbage, oh and the gravy could have been thicker.