With Rochelle Canteen, chef James Ferguson helped turn an old school bike shed into a (somewhat word-of-mouth) foodie must-do. Can his handiwork achieve the same for a strip of railway arches?
It’s not about the dog… The name references the first steam train to use the railway arches that now bear this fresh branch of the Overground. But insofar as the beagle is one particularly dandy and well turned out canine, the name is appropriate – this is Hoxton, after all. Other than the obvious – the arches themselves – the railway heritage is carried through into the interior with the use of reclaimed sleepers for the restaurant’s floors and for the outdoor planters and seats.
The restaurant’s immediate surroundings are very Hoxton, too – think grittiness, shabby chic and the possibility of vomit on the pavements, since Cremer Street is a cut-through for merrymakers on their way between the venues of Hackney and Kingsland roads. Geffrye Street, where the entrance officially lies, is hardly a street at all, and it serves as a pedestrianised approach to Hoxton station at this point.
Opposite sit the disused (and under threat) Marquis pub and Arch 402 gallery, both of which occasionally throb with late-night, invite-only shenanigans at weekends. So there’s certainly an underground kind of buzz round here, which only added to the pre-opening excitement that surrounded Beagle.
Inside, one arch serves as the bar, the middle one as the dining area, and the final arch as the kitchen. It's the arches' glowering form that dominates, with fixtures and fittings very much in the background. The most striking features are the metal chandeliers that evoke a kind of modern, minimalist gothic.
There might be something a little bit 1990s in repurposing railway arches for a venue such as this, but the crowd are hip as you like (and if some of them look 90s, it's in an on-message, Audrey-from-Twin Peaks kind of way). The place is a little too expensive to bring in the young wasted beauties of East London legend, so there are more in the late-20s and 30s bracket, plus foodies of all ages and descriptions, not least Ferguson’s Rochelle Canteen fan club.
There might also be the odd posher diner, lured by the reputation of founding brothers Danny and Kieran Clancy (the former of Bonnie Gull in Fitzrovia) who also oversee krankbrother, an events company for wealthy posh folks playing at edgy. On the subject of rich, although close to the City, groups of boisterous boys are rare. As Ferguson predicted in an interview, the menu might not be ‘blokey’ enough for them. And all these groups intermingle with the sound of trains rumbling overhead.
Trains rumble, but not tummies, because the food is all about generous heartiness. The menu is five-strong in the starters and mains slots, with three each of sides and desserts.
Starters (£5.50-£8) have included three vegetarian options: a courgette, wild garlic and mint soup; a beetroot and ‘soft-boiled bantam egg’ salad, and a plate of violet, rocket and Spenwood cheese. The last of these recalls Ferguson's work at Rochelle Canteen, where menu items seemed less like descriptions of dishes than parcelings of ingredients – it’s a leap of faith worth taking. The veggie-centricity here is well conceived, given just how meaty - both in the menu reading and the tasting - many of the other offerings are. Think starters of lambs tongue – as chewy and oily as you might imagine, albeit utterly succulent – tangled up into a salad with radishes and shallots. Octopus, when it appears, is far softer and easier on the jaw than this knotty beast has any right to be – typically, they serve it simply, with new potatoes and coriander sauce.
Mains (from £13.50) continue the theme of light, simple and citrus alongside immense meatiness. On the one hand there might be lemon sole with monks beard and cucumber or ricotta tortelli with peas and broad beans. But over on the dark side there’s White Park fore rib with duck fat potatoes and warm anchovy sauce, spit roast chicken with lemon potatoes and smoked aioli or braised meatballs and lentils. And by gosh those really are balls of meat, impossibly rich with an almost chocolatey intensity. The accompanying lentils might as well be formed of marrow, so un-veggie do they taste. Sides (£3.50-£4.50) include hispi cabbage, gem lettuce salad or new potatoes. Again, every ingredient is just-so.
A specials board often holds gems, particularly in the starters category, with the likes of pigeon and prune terrine (£7), grilled quail and romesco (£8) and mains featuring Hereford lamb and a for-two rack of veal rib (share the pain). The constituent parts of that terrine (recalling so many of the dish descriptions) are clearly demarcated, with a deep gamey-ness matched perfectly to the fruit.
Desserts (£5-£7), if you choose to descend deeper into this blissful flavour abyss, include poached rhubarb and ‘set cream’, chocolate and praline tart, and blood orange sorbet with prosecco.
This plays a big part and the venue works just as well as a bar, perhaps because those arches create such a sense of separation between the spaces (plus there's that outside terrace-like area). Cocktails, ales and wines - the menu has been devised with skill (even the coffee is Climpson & Sons) by Myles Davies, formerly of Viajante and Hix Soho.
The Last Word
The restaurant's name might not be about the scent hound, but try Ferguson's food and you'll be back here sniffing around like an overexcited dog in no time.