The James Street Tavern has had a makeover and is almost unrecognisable, so far is it from its previous incarnation. The decor has been updated, and the family team who also run the Old Bookbinders in Jericho have opted for a trendy-yet-cosy feel, with hints of industrial-style bare brick walls and exposed pipework. The biggest change, though, is that they now serve food, so I couldn’t miss an opportunity to bring a couple of friends to check out the culinary offerings.
We started with a round of drinks to sip during the all-important perusing of the menu. My friends went for a pint of one of the ciders available on draught, and an apple juice - which was, pleasingly, of the proper, cloudy variety. For me, early December meant that it had to be one thing: mulled wine. And it was a sign of things to come that it was brilliantly executed - well-spiced but not too heavy, so that I could happily sip myself into a state of festive cheer.
As we browsed the (loosely French-inspired) menu, I remembered a warning about the portion sizes being substantial, so we opted out of starters, instead choosing a main each and a couple of sides for sharing. The latter turned out to be a mistake, as the mains were undeniably complete meals in themselves, which we could barely finish - but not for lack of motivation!
Between the three of us, we ordered a Picardie burger and two crepes: L’Italienne and L’Anti-Cannibal (!), both vegetarian options - and it was great to see that there were several others on the menu too. The food came out promptly and exquisitely presented: the burger stacked high with sumptuous melting brie; the crepes each folded into their own shapes and finished with pretty sauces and garnishes, and, in the case of L’Anti-Cannibal, a glorious fried egg. Unfortunately, the quirky hemp cutlery protectors and the salt and pepper in corked test tubes somewhat distracted from what was otherwise a feast for the eyes.
As suggested above, though, the food remained a literal feast. I had a report that the burger was great, and tried one of the accompanying fries, which was crispy and well-seasoned (though seemingly not homemade, which seems like a missed opportunity to pay homage to the ‘French’ fry!); the veg in my friend’s crepe was wonderfully silky; and, as for me, the fusion of Italian with French cuisines seemed an inspired choice. The crepe itself had a wonderful texture, which was complemented well by the chewy melted mozzarella. The basil sauce provided an interesting sweetness, the veg was juicy and flavourful, and the overall result was incredibly moreish. It’s a real feat to produce something quite so hearty and yet for it so remain delicately flavoured.
I just about managed to finish, and made an admirable effort with my ill-chosen rocket and Parmesan side salad (I say this just because of the size - the poor thing itself deserved more credit!), but we regretfully had to decline on the concept of pudding, no matter how good it no doubt would have been. The total bill for 3 of us to enjoy a drink, plus more than enough food, came in at under £50 - great value, especially when combined with the convivial atmosphere brought on by the new decor. The new management is continuing the pub’s legacy of supporting local performers, with a weekly roster of music and comedy gigs - we stayed to enjoy the comedy open mic, and I hear big things are in the pipeline for a new purpose-built gig venue in the beer garden - the reasons to check out this improved haunt are many!