The Punchbowl claims to be a ‘country pub in the heart of the city’. I’ve been to quite a few country pubs in the heart of the country and it is definitely a few degrees grander than those roaring-log-fire and damp dog establishments. However even though it’s on the rural sounding Farm Street, The Punchbowl is definitely in the heart of the city. It would be a safe bet to say that it’s been a few years since there has been a farm anywhere near Farm Street (not that The Flaneur condones gambling, when the fun stops, stop, etc.)
The Punchbowl has recently been voted the best pub in Mayfair, so The Flaneur went along to see whether the accolade was deserved. To give a definitive opinion would obviously involve sampling every pub in the area. (I did suggest to the editor that in order to write this article I should eat at every pub in Mayfair. He agreed wholeheartedly with my logic and took away my company credit card). So I can merely say the award seems well deserved. Downstairs when the weather is cold enough a log fire blazes. But the main draw is the dining room upstairs. Or more precisely the food served in the dining room upstairs.
The decoration in the dining room is unusual. The golden designs painted around the cornices have been allowed to drip down the walls. It’s a very un-country pub effect, that gets more peculiar when you look closely. The paint-drips deliberately continue down the front of the portraits hanging in the room. It’s as though an incompetent painter-decorator hadn’t removed the fine art before starting work with over-thinned paint. Though it unifies the room’s design it feels rather a gimmick.
Of course I was there for the menu, which includes some great sounding dishes. Pumpkin risotto, sage beurre noisette and aged parmesan anyone? Or what about lemon sole, new potatoes, caper and brown shrimp butter? It’s one of those menus that really makes you wish you had a second stomach. I’ll have this, no that, you’ll be saying to yourself, especially if the day’s special includes the fish pie over which I hummed, but eventually hawed. (If you do try it please leave a comment below). However the steak and ale pie is a superb choice. The meat has a gentle melt-in-the-mouth texture and the robust flavour of the whole dish wakes you up shouting this is what beef should taste like. It was served with carrots that retained an attractive bite and embodied the very essence of carrot, though I found them a little too heavily salted. The rib eye steak looked superb, a large slab of meat crisscrossed with griddle lines. According to my poetic dining companion it was effervescent with charcoal. I’m not sure exactly what that means and I don’t think it was cooked on charcoal, but the way it was delivered suggested it was high praise indeed.
The desserts were more mixed. The white chocolate pannacotta with passion fruit sorbet was the sort of dish you could happily live on forever. As I write it literally was my last meal, but it’s definitely last meal material in the more common use of the phrase. Unfortunately the selection of British cheeses was disappointing. A lot of quince jelly and grapes and a good triangle of Stilton, but only a couple of blobs of other cheeses and a few biscuits. It looked good on the plate, but after the other culinary successes it was very disappointing.
With a quaffable Spanish house wine and impressively coiffured waiting staff a visit to The Punchbowl is recommended. I may not have eaten in all the other pubs in Mayfair (yet – though it is now a project I hope to complete as soon as possible. I envisage a book that will become the de facto guide to Mayfair’s eateries, hopefully published in time for Christmas next year. Email in to reserve your copy, it will be an ideal gift for almost everyone you know (probably not kids)), but The Punchbowl’s award seems justified. Head over to Farm Street and see what you think.
Have you eaten at all the pubs in Mayfair? Do you have a favourite? Have you eaten at The Punchbowl? Tell us your thoughts below.