6 June 2014

Licky Chops at The Cat & Mutton

Broadway Market's favourite pub has had a redo. Named for the Cat and Mutton bridge over the Regent's Canal at the other end of the street, this East London stalwart closed its doors for a while Ruby's owners restored it to some of its former glory.

On a hot day or warm evening, you'll be lucky to get anywhere near the place. Drinkers stream onto the corner and into the park, pushing out of the warmly furnished inside. The refurb's answered many prayers and the teeny tiny ledge and open kitchen on the ground floor has been replaced by a resplendent bar that extends along an entire wall. Tarnished golds and lots of wood throws this right back into its original glory days, and the ever-loved mismatching tables and chairs gives the place that little bit of extra love. Upstairs has been transformed into Pearl's (named after a former landlady) where cocktails are the order of the day - fruity drinks served in obligatory milk bottles and jam jars. Perhaps no longer original, but a nice touch all the same.

We were there to catch up with a pal who's moved out to Hong Kong. And seeing as The Cat's on the doorstep, it seemed silly not to give it a go. Having booked (yep, booked!)  upstairs and with the kitchen worked by favourites Licky Chops we were in for a treat.

With a small menu of small and sharing plates, it was devilishly difficult to choose. In the end, we all went for two or three dishes (plus sides of fries and aioli or mango slaw) and managed to try practically everything on offer. We started with pork scratchings and anchovies - a small portion for £3.50, there were four crisped skins topped with a single anchovy for the saltiest little bites to kick off with. This was met with mixed reactions, which just meant more for me.

The rest of the plates come out as they're ready which is good for a rolling dining experience but does mean that some people were eating and finished before everyone else (me), there can also be a mix up (fries before other food) and a half hour wait for a dish that we ended up cancelling and taking with us to devour at home. That aside, what we did eat was divine.

I chose the pork rillettes with sourdough toast. The rillettes were thick and dense and spread easily onto the (very thin) slices of salted sourdough. I would have liked some more of the toast, as I am a complete pate/rillettes fiend, and perhaps some cornichons, but the texture and the taste of the meat was good enough without it. From there, Tiago and I shared the crab on sourdough, which came piled with fennel and parmesan and roasted tomatoes. Despite being a huge fish lover, I've never been one to go for crab (past experiences in kitchens may have put me off) but I loved the mix of the flaked white meat and the creamier brown meat each offering something different on the plate. My third dish was equally as good, if not better - grilled courgettes, stracciatella, honey and pine nuts. The creamy cheese with the chargrilled bite of courgettes and the woody pine nuts was offset by the sweetness of the honey, leading to a dish that I could eat for the rest of my life. All it needed was perhaps a little bit of bread to mop up those last lingering pieces.

Other things that we chose from the menu included the burnt broccoli with almonds, pickled mustard seeds and a slightly garlicky yoghurt; the jerk chicken with a mango slaw and a bit of a kick; and the beef short ribs, enough to share with a side of pickled red cabbage and melt in the mouth texture. The pork chop with red peppers and hazelnuts was the dish that didn't arrive so they packaged it up for us and let us take it home free of charge.

The staff here are really friendly - even offering us a shot of mezcal, complete with worm, which we graciously declined. Small plates are tricky to price as they're usually too much and never enough, but I felt the portions are just about right, even if I was a little hungry at the end of the evening. The house red was good enough for a second bottle but I'll definitely be dining off everything of the ever-changing menu the next time I go. Which will be soon because this place gets a four out of five.

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