By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
At some point during our lives, many of us have spent at least one evening (still one too many) within the confines of an overly ostentatious themed pub or restaurant. Those that inspire us to lie, even to ourselves, in the hope of forgetting an establishment that is to good taste what Donald Trump is to common decency. Establishments that reap every opportunity to charge through the nose for an experience that’s often best left forgotten. Fortunately, themed establishments of the rare enjoyable kind are a real strongpoint of Charlie Gilkes’ and Duncan Stirlings’ Inception Group – the team behind the likes of ‘80s inspired nightclub Maggie’s, Brazilian-inspired Cocobananas, and Cahoots – a 1940s London Underground Station themed bar in Soho.
The pair are also behind Mr Fogg’s in Mayfair, which has become somewhat of a local stalwart, and following its success, a sister venue – Mr Fogg’s Tavern – was opened within theatre land between Covent Garden and Leicester Square at the tail end of last year. Unsurprisingly, given the venue’s names, Mr Fogg’s and Mr Fogg’s Tavern are both heavily inspired by the protagonist of Jules Verne’s classic ‘Around The World in 80 Days’ – a Victorian adventure novel that follows fictional Phileas Fogg on his attempt to circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days, on a £20000 (over £7 million in today’s money) bet from his friends. While the original Mr Fogg’s bar in Mayfair works as a cocktail bar that’s based on the character’s central London residence, Mr Fogg’s Tavern is a slightly less formal, accessible Victorian Tavern-styled pub.
What’s perhaps most prominent about the Tavern is the eccentric décor, with the downstairs pub cluttered with all sorts of regalia from yesteryear. Various ephemera hangs from the high ceiling, while an impressive collection of taxidermy is also on display, heavily inspired by the timeframe of the novel and, of course, by Mr Fogg’s travels. Upstairs, meanwhile, a more sedate Gin Parlour is reachable by an external side door, decorated to resemble Aunt Gertrude Fogg’s living room, as well as boasting what’s currently London’s vastest gin selection – with more than 300 different gins sourced from all across the globe. There’s also the chance to embark upon the venue’s Gin Tasting Safari – private events that allow guests to sample a range of gins and tonics, with a 90-minute excursion from expert barmen, delving into the history, origins and tasting notes on each variety.
As well as the all-encompassing selection of gin, the downstairs drinks menu is also impressive, with the bar run by costumed bartenders that add to the experience, while a waitress/actress playing the role of landlady Fanny McGee bellows drinks orders across the room to the bar staff. There’s also a hearty ‘Bill of Fare’ (menu), which offers some comforting, good old fashioned pub grub. To begin, a roasting pot overflowing with strips of golden deep-fried pig’s ears provide crunch superior to any other type of crackling, although slightly overcooked and under-seasoned. A dish of Cornish crab, nonetheless, favoured the use of the crab’s less visually appealing but far tastier brown meat – a real triumph, working in harmony alongside a slight kick of chilli. On recommendation, we both opted for the meat pie on offer, fortuitously given it’s the best thing we ate at Mr Fogg’s Tavern. Using a combination of Dedham Vale beef with home-smoked bacon to fill a suet pastry case, exciting all of the taste senses, joined by a deep braising liquor to coax some more of the warming meaty flavours from the pie, accompanied by a large helping of buttery mashed potatoes and bittersweet kale.
As far as themed food and drink establishments are concerned, Mr Fogg’s Tavern is a real hidden gem and a welcome addition to this part of the city that’s so often flooded with uninspired tourist-trapping chain restaurants.
Mr Fogg’s Tavern can be found at 58 St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4EA. —