The Truscott Arms hangs heavy with accolades. Firstly: Best British Roast Dinner 2014, awarded with lots of national press fanfare as part of Unilever-sponsored British Roast Dinner Week. More recently – still under the shepherding of chef Aiden McGee – they were the highest new entry in the 2015 Budweiser Budvar Gastropub Awards.
They’ve scooped SRA’s Sustainable Pub of the Year and an AA Notable Wine List award. And in 2016 they went major league, with a very unexpected seal of approval. It comes from a Chiswick-based friend of mine, who leaves W4 only under duress and avoids all other parts of London equally, with a special hatred for anywhere not on the District line. But when I tell her I’m going to the Truscott she floors me with a ‘love that place’ and follows up with the revelation that she’s been multiple times, knows it well, and loves it dearly even despite a journey there involving the Bakerloo line.
The Truscott Arms: winning national prizes and obstinate hearts since 2014, if not longer.
But tonight’s going to be slightly new territory, because despite having very comfortable laurels to rest on, McGee’s relaunched the Truscott’s food offering with Born 1983.
Downstairs the Truscott’s still a busy neighbourhood pub, serving those award-winning roasts and a great range of draught beers. But upstairs it’s a fine dining concept album – a two-menu journey through McGee’s experiences of food, from childhood to chefhood – in a beautiful, simple dining room balancing between splendour and informality.
Everything about the set-up breathes calm. There’s no background music – a friend’s tinnitus has taught me how surprisingly hard it is to find that in London restaurants. Though it’s busy when we arrive there’s no sense of it being crowded – the tables are spaced out at uneavesdroppable-distance from each other and nothing feels overwrought, not from the front-of-house calm charm and the heavy, Sixties-ish leather chairs to the food itself.
Complicated-sounding initially, the menus just offer two different paths through McGee’s Eighties Donegal to present-day London experience – Journey, a four-course a la carte, and Memories, a six-course tasting menu taken from the Journey selection. We opt for Journey, purely to cover a greater spread of dishes, though before our pre-starters arrive we’ve already been brought off-menu canapés – a trio of tiny pretend desserts including a profiterole filled with cheese sauce that makes me wish it were a standalone dish on the menu, and a teacup of mushroom and onion broth.
I see what McGee’s done here with these unchosen canapés – seducing us before we even hit our choices, proving that he can read our desires better than we know them ourselves – and by the time the sourdough bread and butter basket arrives I’d happily tear up our order and eat whatever cheese-and-choux beauties he wants to send out all night. But in the end I’m grateful that we made the effort to exert some free will, because what follows is incredible – the Big Reveal being that McGee’s journey from Donegal to London apparently took him through some school of dark wizardry where they teach you how to make things that are seriously experimental and, also, that people actually want to eat. Both at the same time. It’s a mystery.
A mystery that crops up across our dinner. In the charred slab of cucumber in my guest’s mackerel and gooseberry pre-starter that genuinely convinces you there’s a point to cucumber. My duck egg in Oloroso sherry sauce, topped with artichoke crisps is a foamy, crunchy confusing soup that you somehow don’t ever want to end.
Unless you’ve already been to Born 1983 – and if so, let’s meet and just gaze at each other as two people who have known a Golden Age of Eating Stuff – it’ll have to be taken on trust that the scallops and the quail starters are both equally as surprising – thick, almost caramelised wedges of bacon, and equally as amazing as everything preceding them. Same goes for my lamb canon main course, and my guest’s venison, backed by a slick of black pudding with the texture of honey.
By the time the desserts arrive, we’re not surprised anymore that McGee’s off-stage sorcery’s turns a chocolate and orange ice cream and a cheeseboard into something weirder and far better than you could intuit from the minimalist menu descriptions. The matched wines can still throw us though – Endre Dobo’s been doing incredible things with the wine list throughout dinner, but that comes to a head with a vintage port for the cheese, and a Quady Elysium Black Muscat for my guest. Dessert wines we’re both convinced we don’t like, but it turns out Dobo, McGee and Born 1983 are completely right about that.
As they are in all matters.
The Born 1983 menus are offered for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday and for lunch on Saturday. ‘Memories’ is a six course tasting menu priced at £95,and ‘Journey’ is a four course a la carte offering for £65.
The Truscott Arms, 55, Shirland Road, London, W9 2JD. 0207 2669198. Website.