A long while back I mentioned how I go on those dumbass walks to Hampstead, something – since I joined the illustrious and scary Reebok Sports Club – I have no longer really needed to endure. That was not to say I didn’t enjoy them. The finishing point was the Heath’s summit, Parliament Hill, where the view of a peaceful and quiet Central, fanning out below me, was the reward. Well, some kind of reward. I would have preferred someone waiting for me up there with a tray of Mars Bars.
These walks have also meant that I have slowly become smitten with all the wonderful pubs up here. These are the places the wholesome people of Belsize Park / Hampstead and the media workers and/or crack addicts of Camden Town would while away their weekends in a level of comfort other inns could only dream of. Seriously, they all have that certain cushioned je ne sais quoi. Is it bad to admire Camdenites for the seating they have in their bars?
A couple weekends ago, I had a mate down and to make the most out of a dry day (though the clouds were more threatening than Bez on the Sunday Politics), and for lack of better things to do, we took a stroll up to Parliament Hill. The weather stayed just warm enough, especially when the sun poked though the black cloud, casting the moodiest shadows on the city below. I need to spend more time up here – the view just keeps getting better – as London constantly seems to be changing and growing amidst a sea of swivelling high rise cranes, and that makes me bloody proud. Alas, all too quickly we felt fruh-yeezing and headed back to the warmer climes of the lower slopes.
Peckish, we decided to drop into one of those lovely pubs on the way to Belsize Park Station and one that was close enough to sort us out with food and booze A.S.A.P., as well as always looking prepossessing through the window on my walks (as it did today), was The George. And in we went.
Right from first impressions, The George (formerly unfortunately called the ‘Rat and Parrot’) wins. It has this light, airy demeanor, akin to a conservatory or the lighthouse from Round the Twist but the white wooden bookshelves, piles of newspaper, super-cheerful staff and elaborately stencilled blackboard afford a degree of congenial homeliness too – few places pull off this combination. Not to mention decent seating, a little big deal for me. I sternly recommend that you could get there early, bag one of the plentiful, sinkable sofas and stay there from brunch thru lunch thru diner, sipping gin and reading a book. Christ, I need to move in around here.
Sadly, the sofas were taken so we parked at the bar. Bar seating is made out to be the worst thing since the plague. In fact, that same evening we went to Tramshed, ran late and upon calling the restaurant regarding our booking, were (politely) informed that if we were not there in thirty minutes we would be relegated to the high chairs with the bartenders and the ignorant who had not reserved a table at all. My recent experience at Bubbledogs has left me quite fond of a perch at heart of the action, with personal service and a good view of the gin. But I digress. Basically, we sat at the bar and ordered a deserved couple of Hendricks and tonic. It’s a basic, clichéd act of snobbery, but I massively judge on whether or not I get cucumber. I can confirm that in the case of The George, not only did we get cucumber, but the lovely barmaid actually went to go and find some as there was none behind the bar. I could have married her there and then.
We screwed up the food order massively, ordering way too quick. We were never going to have a massive meal – as the ‘Shed was calling and there was a feck off Porterhouse there with our name on it – so we settled on a charcuterie platter, totally missing a blackboard above us with ‘B.B.T.’, my new shorthand for British Bar Tapas. At The George, this included charming sounding things like cottage pie croquettes and something that included the words ‘deep’ and ‘fried’ and ‘cheese’. What a balls-up that was. That is not to say the charcuterie wasn’t awesome – a delicate board of salami, Parma ham and rare roast beef (cut extra thick and more mouth watering than those Cadbury chocolate mousse mini-egg food pornography things you get around now, in the run-up to Easter).
The charcuterie board was garnished to within an inch of its life, via olives, a mozzarella salad, bread and oil and Mini. Freakin’. Pickles. Nothing was heaped on, thankfully reflected in a relatively reasonable price (even the gin here was more affordable than some of the more scallywaggy bars in the East). In fact, for that moment wanting a light lunch after a not-so-light walk, it was damn near spot on, meaning that a leisurely day here to recline for multiple meals and drinks with cucumber in needed – The George has drawn me in with simple goodness and I will come back.
The George’s ‘home-away-from-home’ feel – even on bar stools – meant that we lost track of that most precious thing in the city: time, and we were delinquent in leaving, leading to running late for Tramshed (we needed to get all the way East, get changed and get back, all without the the DLR, which was down for maintenance). That unwanted haste on a Saturday was soon forgotten with another great meal courtesy of Hix and Co. and a subsequent trip to that other great view in town, the bar at SushiSamba.
Pub food from £ten to £twenty-ish, small plates around £four, gins are dirt cheap. It doesn’t matter.
www.thegeorge-belsizepark.co.uk | 020 7431 0889 | 250 Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park, London, NW3 2AE