'This place hugs you; I was just where I wanted to be': The Bull and Last, London, restaurant review

William Sitwell
·3 min read
The Bull and Last - The Bull and Last
The Bull and Last - The Bull and Last
In brief | The Bull and Last
In brief | The Bull and Last

If there was a pub that could hug you, it would be The Bull & Last. Once it offered the final opportunity for a meal before one’s 18th-century coach and horses headed north from the city, doubtless with little but vagabonds, highwaymen and rutted lanes to look forward to.

Now this pub, in north London, envelops you with vast plates of food, wonderfully kind service, booze and great value. If this was your final meal on earth you would pass happily, with nothing tainting your soul as you approached the gates of heaven, save indigestion.

As this life of preposterous tiers and curfews threatens the sanity of diners as well as the economics of hostelries, The Bull & Last is like so many valiant eateries – a beautiful sandcastle standing proud as the murderous waves of righteous lunacy charge at the shore.

My wife Emily and I bagged a table for Sunday lunch. And then we heaved our bodies up Hampstead Heath to the top of Parliament Hill to gaze over London 300 feet below. We needed the exercise, but if Mayor Khan wants to do one lasting, useful thing, he should construct a chairlift or have a fleet of sedan chairs ready to ferry the full to the summit.

Because full we were. Very. Mainly due to the pub’s enormous main courses. We had both plumped for the roast pork belly, which came with enough stuff to keep you fed for a week. There was a giant toadstool of a fluffy, crisp Yorkshire pudding, rich black pudding, great roast potatoes, a curly-wurly of crackling, vibrant kale and several large spoonfuls of choucroute; that heart-warming mix of sauerkraut and pork bits that can be a meal in itself. The belly was a fine tribute to the pig, soft meat and sweet fat. But we had sides, too: long slivers of roasted carrot and parsnips and an unnecessary, yet seemingly vital, little pot of cauliflower cheese; hot and gooey within and charred on top.

We ploughed through these dishes like adventurers pushing and cutting through thick jungle. The going was heavy, more so because we had already eaten plates of Scotch egg (yes, with a soft middle) and a dip of Colman’s mustard, and some fried chicken with mayo. The latter is a dish famous in these parts; downright dirty, fabulously filthy. The crisp buttermilk batter protects a treasure trove of soft chicken. It’s a dish worth risking obesity for. And I know obesity costs the UK Treasury more than terrorism, but on the strength of this dish alone, it’s worth it.

Back on the main courses and we were also sloshing on dark, rich gravy out of deep jugs. Did I say this place hugs you? At The Bull & Last, you would never need to flag down staff and ask for more gravy. If anything it would be ‘less gravy’! But as I come from a home that a friend of my father’s used to call Gravy Hall, I was just where I wanted to be.

A shared pudding came in the form of a glorious little pewter mug, filled with chocolate mousse made acceptably thicker with the addition of tahini, with a big dollop of tart raspberry sorbet on top, and sugary sesame brittle perched above like a melting swan frozen in time.

This glorious nosh was made all the more heavenly for a half of blissfully watery Redemption IPA to go with the starters, and a few glasses of inky Puglian primitivo for the rest.

We sat so happily in there, a simple room, with a few heads of bulls or moose and other beasts on the walls, stuffed almost as solidly as we (albeit wondering if the chairs could be made a little more comfy, especially as you can’t of course linger at the bar these days). But then, I suppose, you might get stuck, unable to move, part of the furniture like those wall trophies. Reluctant to leave, even if it was after 10pm and your sedan chair awaited…