The Old Dairy, Crouch End, London

Adam did not do his research or he’d have realised that Max’s Sandwich Shop on Crouch Hill, a short bus ride from Finsbury Park, only opened at 6pm.  He’d been lusting after one of Max’s gourmet sarnies all week and was desperate to take me there. We even passed Max himself on the street, but alas the ham, egg and chips sandwich with malt vinegar mayo will have to wait til another time (he felt the lust so strongly he later made himself a facsimile sandwich at home.)

So what to do for lunch and beers on Good Friday? The next nearest option was The Old Dairy, which as the beautiful tableaux on the wall outside will tell you graphically was indeed at one time Friern Manor Dairy Farm (established 1836), pub now announcing itself as a pub and dining room.  The website says this:

Located in the heart of North London, The Old Dairy is a delightfully spacious pub and local landmark, occupying a beautiful Grade ІІ listed building. Exposed brick walls add traditional charm to the interior while the picturesque murals on the exterior hark back to The Dairy’s time as a functioning creamery. From the comfortable main bar to the more contemporary restaurant and private dining room, we have a space for every occasion or event. Sample our 5 cask conditioned real ales, our extensive and exhaustive selection of wines and, of course, our freshly made seasonal food

It is indeed a gorgeous old building, including a delightful roof light to provide sunshine and aeration, with chandeliers to provide the light for evening sessions.  It’s the sort of property breweries and chains fall over themselves to make over since they have intrinsic character you can otherwise attempt to paint on by the yard at the hand of retail interior designers and typically fail.   The light and airy feel of the place is just what you’d want for a renovated pub, even one that announces itself with a long list of football games showing on the big screens.

On this particular lunchtime the place was pretty quiet, so we settled ourselves on a leather chesterfield sofa in a quiet nook before Adam went to get the beers – and returned without any.  Why? I wanted to know.  Lots of people waiting but nobody serving, he replied.  We were just on the verge of leaving when a member of staff appeared and began pulling pints for the queue at a fairly leisurely pace, befitting the mood of the Bank Holiday perhaps.

In due course our turn arrived so two pints of IPA were pulled and two burgers ordered.  A word about the Old Dairy IPA, which we can assume is the product of their own microbrewery: it was a fine frothy pint with fruity notes and a hoppy undertone, refreshing and perfect for a Friday lunchtime.

But what of the chopped beef patty?  My son regards himself an expert on burgers, having tried many a gourmet chain, so grading these steeply-priced burgers (£13.50 compared to about £9-10 at most gourmet burger joints, with beers heading in the direction of a fiver a pint) seemed the next best thing to Max’s homemade specials.

Two things to note here: one is that the establishment clearly has the pretensions, and the pricing, to being a gastropub, but the bar menu sticks pretty close to pub grub favourites, if you except the curious and bizarre  “marmite-glazed aubergine.”  For a true gastropub I expect true gastronomy.  That is, the best quality locally-sourced ingredients, and infinite care in cooking and serving, such that the price paid seems insignificant.  Is the  good enough to justify the premium?  For £13.50 I would expect nothing less than the best.

What I can’t tell you, since the menu provided no such detail, was the provenance of the meat or its ageing.  But did it pack a punch?  The meat did not come medium-rare, as you would expect automatically of all top notch burger joints, nor were we offered any choice in how it was served.  Rather, it came top end of medium, quite possibly because the burgers were bought in frozen; if not perhaps they could explain why they don’t serve the meat rare and succulent?

As it was, the burgers were chewier than you have every right to expect, and cooked a moment longer the would have lost entirely any succulence or flavour.  However, they certainly looked the part, consisting of double burger with a rarebit topping (slight artistic licence applied there), salads and sauces crammed into a brioche bun.  To the left was a metal cup of skinny fries, assisted by neat vintage storage jars of mayo and ketchup.  Downstage and in the foreground was a single pickled gherkin, whole but for a small slice removed at a jaunty angle.  Appearance is clearly most important to a gastropub.

All told, Max’s very hand-made sandwiches, all the product of his own hands and served at £8.50 a go would have provided better quality and value for money, albeit without the attractive surroundings.  You pays your money and you makes your choice, as my grandmother would have said, but all told the food product and the service fell short of expectations, even if the beer and the premises were both good to go.  Definitely Max’s next time, though I hope the Old Dairy will at least learn a few lessons and pay slightly more attention to detail.


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