Eighteenth century essayist, Charles Lamb doesn’t seem the obvious choice to lend licensed premises his name. In ‘Confessions of a Drunkard’ (Last Essays of Elia) the Georgian Islingtonite presaged against ‘draughts of life-destroying wine … distilled into airy breath to tickle vain auditors.’
The perpetual Saturday vibe of this good-looking and sociable haven unravels but a few steps from hectic City Road and Upper Street. Such attributes of commendable aesthetics and disarming friendliness are echoed in my aquiline friend who must be the Freehouse’s most loyal fan. Enticingly, the girlish Anglo-Russian remains as alluring clutching a potent bouquet of just-picked scallions as savouring near nitrogen cool vodka martinis in a Mayfair five star’s bar.
We share a good excuse to venture there midday on a Friday. Mascha, Staffordshire bull terrier and The Charles Lamb’s mascot died peacefully days before while walkies by Brighton beach. Landlady Camille delicately recounts details in present tense. And by the weekend, regulars raise a toast to the gentle graying dog famous for its bright scarfs. Camaraderie of this sort seems scant in our sprawling capital. This genuine public house also commemorated the Royal Wedding and regularly hosts ale adventures like Oktoberfest. An impressionistic oil of relaxed regulars nearly overlaps malachite fringed windows.
Despite the latterly temperate, latterly in turmoil Lamb, we sip orange smoothed Bloody Marys upon sun warmed slats of a long bench overlooking Quick Street. An elegant lamppost, once glowing with gas mantle sprouts. Our reflections glint in Tabasco coloured tiles creeping the wall. When space comes free we segue to wooden marquee style and green steel chairs nudging a matt tin, ivory table stamped ‘Vedett’. Above, flowers cascade; the sign stays still in the sultry air.
Ordered from a neat blackboard, dishes are both down to earth and down to the earth. Chorizo studded brawny Plantation pork terrine is slim, supple and perfectly in tune with pert cornichons and brittle homemade bread. Cornish sardines are plump, their flesh staying skin warm under the afternoon’s rays. A kink of lustrous, bosquey leaves redefines local sourcing having emerged from the soil of neighbour, Prudence, an 80 year-old friend of the pub who takes a sanity rather than vanity approach to her garden. Considering the unexpected, intoxicating sun, a few more freckles shyly spread my friend’s cheeks, and my white pallor – call it crack addict in winter – gradually grows a carat or two golden.
In search of the next corrective, we sample a dab of the barman’s malty, bitter brew. ‘It’s not quite right yet’ he says modestly, although its reassuring crispness is actually totally agreeable. We also attempt shots of draft Redemption, Trinity, Oak Leaf, Neptu and my second favourite moreish blonde of this day, Dark Star.
With a shared perfectly messy, wispy pastry plum tart weaved with crème fraîche glob we raise Mascha a final glass – a garish but briskly thirst slaking Aperol Spritz. Subtly sweeter than Campari. Over the road a van marked Pandora’s Restaurant Supplies parks nose to nose with one promising Asbestos Removal. I wonder what dramas these intrusions from modern life must attend.
Despite its ironic name, The Charles Lamb dispenses intriguing alcohol treats alongside plucky, flavoursome generous portions. Had it existed in its namesake’s epoch, I’m quite sure such a gracious, welcoming conduit to contentment could have inspired musings of Celebrations rather than Confessions of a Drunkard. Life’s too short not to drink…
Raise an electronic toast to Battersea Dogs’ Home in Mascha’s memory: justgiving.com/Mascha
The Charles Lamb,16 Elia Street, Islington, London N1 8DE
Water drinking wit: The Charles Lamb
Despite its ironic name, The Charles Lamb dispenses intriguing alcohol treats alongside plucky, flavoursome generous portions says Douglas Blyde.
Our resident foodie is a former documentary man and utterly gripped by gastronomy: driven by a love of good taste and fascinated by that almost nocturnal, nervously energetic breed known as chefs. He longs, one day, to own a pristine restaurant, boutique hotel, almost mythically revered vineyard and a vast chocolate factory…
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