Jimi Famurewa reviews The Plimsoll: A restless, ragtag, chaotic kind of pub — in other words, a total joy

·4-min read
Pub 2.0: a new kitchen has been added, but the boozer looks just as it always has (Matt Writtle)
Pub 2.0: a new kitchen has been added, but the boozer looks just as it always has (Matt Writtle)

Minutes after strolling into The Plimsoll, I felt the powerful urge to walk straight out again. This was by no means a reflection of my excitement about this opening, a new, DIY pub from Four Legs chefs Ed McIllroy and Jamie Allan. No, it is more that I had made the mistake of not reserving a table, and was met by a kind of Black Friday with added grilled langoustines.

“Is this taken?!” asked one guy amid the swirling crowd, glaring with panic at the stool I’d managed to commandeer alongside a useless half-sliver of a shared high table. I wondered whether I might be better off messaging my approaching friend, telling him to meet me somewhere else, and trying again another day.

But, look, I persevered. And I am very glad I did. Not only because a sudden no-show meant that we could, after a little wait, be slotted onto a free table in the larger dining room. But also because the food and experience at The Plimsoll — with its vivid, full bore flavours and potent mix of informality and adventurousness — is probably worth the clenched bunfight.

Admittedly, I’m a fairly easy mark for McIllroy and Allan’s schtick. Having been among the first to review their myth-forging residency at The Compton Arms in Islington (essentially writing a long, slobbering marriage proposal to their legendary cheeseburger), that first venue became the place I would invariably suggest to those friends that find the idea of “going for a meal” too freighted with implicit seriousness and faff.

Free-jazz approach: the pub is defined by the ragtag chaos of the operation (Matt Writtle)
Free-jazz approach: the pub is defined by the ragtag chaos of the operation (Matt Writtle)

And happily, on visuals alone, the bigger stage of The Plimsoll — previously known as The Auld Triangle and named now for an adjoining road, not the footwear — hasn’t blunted their edge. In makeover terms, it is an old campaigner given a good scrub rather than any extensive cosmetic surgery: dark wooden floorboards creak underfoot, framed cigarette adverts adorn the walls, the wallpapered ceiling is still a peeling, nicotine brown, and there is a newly built, gleaming open kitchen jutting into the main dining room.

Deep fried sardines were an impressive first arrival; gorgeously hot, scantly coated in a bubbled crispy batter, and packing a musky, fatty richness set off by their accompanying splat of piquant housemade ketchup. Sea bass crudo in a squeezed orange juice dressing had an unusual lusciousness and subtlety. And a fillet of hake came flakingly soft, slicked in a sweet, Asian-inflected glaze and in a deep moat of chicken broth that practically pulsed with a herbal, savoury warmth.

Their reluctance to stand still, repeat, or endlessly refine a single idea is both superpower and, perhaps, slight Achilles’ heel

Could the crispy pigeon legs – a touch scrawny and dried out beneath their Southern-fried crumb – have been honed a little more? And the somewhat powdery Basque ricotta cheesecake? Perhaps. But this is, I think, the flip side of The Plimsoll’s enthralling free-jazz approach to menu writing. Their reluctance to stand still, repeat, or endlessly refine a single idea is both superpower and, perhaps, slight Achilles’ heel.

Safe harbour: the Dexter cheeseburger that made the name of the Four Legs team (Matt Writtle)
Safe harbour: the Dexter cheeseburger that made the name of the Four Legs team (Matt Writtle)

But, of course, at the end of it all there is still the safe harbour of the Dexter cheeseburger that made their name. And the great relief is that each of its seemingly simple components – the cragged, crisp-skirted smashed patty, the tart pickles, the onion-flecked spill of special sauce that is the quintessence of a “treat” tea at Wimpy circa 1993 – still delivers a scarcely believable rush of pleasure.

And it is this feeling that fundamentally encapsulates what makes this place so cheering. Because beyond the beguiling, ragtag chaos of the operation (I pause here to point out that recently on Instagram they asked to borrow a sound system, having dripped butter into their old one) and the experimental things being hurriedly plonked on mismatched floral plates, at its core, The Plimsoll is about a recognisable, democratised sort of joy. It is about forceful informality, squashing in beside smiling strangers, and the abiding escapism of a very good burger. Four Legs may not have reinvented the pub. But they are making this creaking, frequently misunderstood institution move to their own idiosyncratic beat.

52 St Thomas’s Road, N4 2QW. Meal for two plus drinks around £90. Open Monday to Friday from 3—11pm, Friday and Saturday, noon till midnight; @fourlegs_ldn

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