Four Legs good at the Compton Arms
- Credit: Vicki Couchman
One of George Orwell’s favourite boozers has been given an understated makeover and installed some serious chef talent
It's said the Compton Arms was one of three pubs that George Orwell used as a template for his fictional ideal watering hole in his essay The Moon Under the Water.
Seventy odd years on, and the great British boozer is under threat from greedy developers and altered drinking habits.
But the things that Orwell liked about this tiny backstreet pub still remain.
Cosy, with friendly staff and good food (supplied by cheffy duo Four Legs in homage to the Animal Farm author) its size made it vulnerable to being turned into flats when owners Greene King sold it last year.
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But a local campaign to list it as a community asset and a hero independent landlord have rescued it from possible annihilation.
Nick Stephens knows a thing or two about running small pubs, his other venture is Hackney's bijoux The Gun, which means he's made best use of the space with what is essentially a intimate bar and tiny back room with just a few tables.
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He's given it a modest but understated makeover (wooden bar, cream paintwork, candles on tables but nothing to frighten the animals) and on a Wednesday night regulars were mingling with a Womens Equality Party meeting and gig-goers on their way to the nearby Union Chapel.
Stephens has created the kind of gimmick-free pub that takes you back to the good old days- only instead of a packet of pork scratchings and lime cordial in your lager, there are excellently kept craft beers and cask ales - the Guinness is the best I've had outside Ireland - and they do a cracking gin and tonic or negroni.
The wines are also well chosen, but it's the food that is getting people talking.
Four Legs is run by Jamie Allan (head chef of Broadway Market butcher and restaurant Hill&Szrok) and Ed McIlroy (Bao in Fitzrovia ) and tilts at a short, changing, seasonal selection of well thought out sharing plates that, unusually for today's vegan-heavy menus, celebrates meat.
Salted almonds, olives, a meaty sausage roll and a terrine that surely makes best use of every part of the beast are all superior pub fare.
I'd heard talk of a meltingly good two-handed cheeseburger with pickles and burger sauce, but my face fell when I saw the last one disappearing off to another table.
The cod chana masala - translucent fish atop spiced chickpeas with a dollop of yoghurt - nearly made up for the disappointment.
Burata with broad beans and olives, and featherlight crispy cheese and chive fritters also helped to restore my smile.
By the time I'd polished off a creme brulee I'd forgotten all abou the missed opportunity of the fried chicken sandwich doused in house mayo.
Other dishes such as pork belly skewers and korean fried chicken betray Asian influences, and with bread from the E5 Bakehouse and a Sunday menu that includes roast sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding it's certainly worth leaving the main drag of Upper Street to take a backstreet detour.
The Compton Arms, 4 Compton Avenue, London N1