The 'All' Black Lion Proves A Winner
Triumph by the Thames with tapas, Kiwi burgers and Puha
It has been my experience that, broadly speaking, though Kiwis are fairly relaxed about most things, they are fiercely loyal to their country when it comes to sport, food and wine. During the Rugby World Cup I was woken up at 9am every morning by shouting coming from my living room and when I stumbled downstairs, bleary eyed and confused, I found my temporary housemate and good friend (affectionately termed KM), staring with great concentration at the TV, watching New Zealand thrashing the heck out of most of the teams they played and providing encouragement in the form of yelling.
Having engaged KM in many a conversation about his homeland (and he is not at all a typical Kiwi, lacking, even, a particularly strong accent), I'm now able to spot the nostalgia creeping into his face as he recants the moment that the Kiwi Burger (a burger including a fried egg and slices of beetroot) gained its namesake (thanks McDonald's), or fond memories of summers spent watching his father grill meat on a barbecue, occasionally fetching him a frosty beer from the fridge. "New Zealand marmite," he tells me, "is the best Marmite in the world. Much better than anything you can get over here," or the slightly controversial, "the Australians stole Pavlova from us. We invented it."
It's no surprise, then, that KM was to be my companion for a visit to The Black Lion pub in Hammersmith, a currently Kiwi-owned historical riverside pub that was initially established by a pig farmer who brewed beer on the side (which then proved to be more popular than the pigs) by 1754 and then became the world-famous venue for the Black Lion Skittle Club (now sadly defunct and disbanded since the early 80s). Despite the fact that it's so close to the A4, it feels somewhat secluded and quiet, set away from the main road and facing the river with plenty of outdoor seating for warmer weather and al fresco dining. Of course, with such a rich and interesting history, the pub in its current iteration is the perfect venue for the former South Islander owner Buzz, and his Black Lion includes the iconic silver fern symbol of New Zealand outside the pub, multiple rugby and cricket shirts strewn across the interior, an all-Kiwi staff and even a tongue-in-cheek unofficial 'renaming' to the "All" Black Lion. Buzz has also recently re-opened the Skittles lane in the distinctive long room at the back of the pub so that patrons can try their hand at this old world sport.
The Black Lion's menu mostly ties together British classics with, as Buzz terms it, "a South Pacific twist." I say 'mostly' as there is a portion of the menu dedicated to Spanish tapas, which doesn't quite seem to fit with the rest of the fare but does fit with the current trend of small plates for gastropubs.
We ordered a selection of tapas to start (part of their 4 dishes for £17.50 deal), including the ham and cheese croquettes, honey soaked fried chorizo, tetilla and manchego cheese with quince paste and calamari with lemon aioli. It's very easy to get croquettes wrong, which seems ironic when they're so very simple to make, but happily The Black Lion's were delightfully crunchy on the outside with soft, fluffy, cheesy interiors and almost better than some of the best I've had in Spain. The honey soaked fried chorizo also deserves a mention as it was by far my favourite way to eat fried chorizo, hitting all the right taste buds and with a wonderful umami flavour. Despite the fact that these items didn't seem to 'fit' with the rest of the menu, the kitchen made it their own and much better than some of the other well-known tapas joints in London. If this is fusion at its best then I'll take it.
For our mains we opted for the Kiwi Burger with grilled Mainland extra strong cheddar, beefsteak tomato, cos lettuce, pickled beetroot, a fried egg, relish, mayonnaise and served with fat chips for KM, and the Biggles "pork and puha" (a traditional Maori "boil up" dish consisting of various root vegetables and "puha" - a type of watercress, also known as sow thistle - boiled together in a pork broth) sausages, served with a wasabi and spring onion mash, cabbage and gravy for myself. Perhaps it was because I'd never come across the name before, but when my dish turned out to be a Kiwi-fied version of bangers and mash (the clue was probably in the 'sausages') I found myself slightly disappointed. KM, too, was confused, as he'd been expecting the traditional soup/stew but, despite the confusion over what the dish actually was, it was filling, hearty and tasty, with a hint of herby spice, though the portion size was a little bit too much for me. The Kiwi Burger, on the other hand, was very good, the patty perfectly cooked and bun lightly toasted. As KM bit into it I saw the flash of nostalgia flit across his face - a good sign that they had got it just right.
We unfortunately had to pass on desserts, full of far too much food in our bellies, but instead opted for a few rounds of skittles over a couple of beers.
With hearty food that will only set you back at roughly £20-25 per head (including alcohol), friendly and charming service and a beautiful venue with a rich and fascinating history, The Black Lion is a pub to keep on your books. Perfect for a sports happy crowd or those keen to sample South Pacific inspired dishes, the relaxed pub appeals to all, no matter the season.
November 14, 2011