Steeped in royal history from the days of King George IV, The Castle is perhaps best known nowadays as a popular after-work drinks destination. This unfortunately detracts from the fairly solid food menu of pub grub staples.
Being on the corner of Cowcross Street and directly opposite Farringdon Station gives The Castle some real street presence, only added to by its bold, red façade. It’s little surprise, then, that in the summer months you can’t miss this EC1 pub, with all its punters spilling out across the pavement outside. The best is done to still make this boozer a pretty sight for passers-by, with coloured glass windows and hanging baskets decorating the street front. Inside, The Castle is your typical pub, with wooden floors, black chalkboards displaying menu choices and a few choice paintings – one depicting King George IV in his cock-fighting days, a popular bygone pastime in this pub. A few raised tables and red banquettes make a break from the regular table and chairs layout, and a red and green colour code continues to keep things traditional.
The Castle has got plenty of atmosphere, being the pub of choice for clubbers on a Friday night before they head for notorious night spot, fabric. And even during the week this pub pulls them in. Expect a predominantly male crowd with loosened ties, hitting The Castle for after-work drinks. The staff are young and polite but don’t need to enter into any banter with their drinkers, since there’s enough buzz and chat, as well as a backing track of indie electro music to keep all entertained.
A menu of British classics as well as a few foreign curve balls is on offer at The Castle, but it’s mostly overlooked, with most regulars plumping for chips alone to help soak up the beers and wines. A great alternative to this would be salt and pepper squid with lime mayonnaise (£5.75), which comes in a very light batter and makes surprisingly good oriental references with its refreshing cucumber and chilli side salad. Another starter that impresses is Paris brown, oyster and flat mushrooms on rye toast with stilton cream (£5.50), a gooey and flavoursome combination offset with peppery watercress leaves.
Main course options are not quite as much of a treat. Gloucester Old Spot sausages (£8.75) come on a tasty bed of crushed pea mash, but the sausages are slightly too charred and not the best quality. And although beer battered haddock (£9.75) is cooked to perfection, with lovely flakey fish dished up, the batter it comes in leaves a lot to be desired and is quite a dense mix. However, served with crushed peas, skin-on chips and tartare sauce, it isn’t a bad dish by any stretch and ticks all the right pub grub boxes.
For dessert, the menu is back on form, with diners spoilt for choice with some genuine pub classics. Sticky toffee pudding with vanilla pod ice cream (£5) is a real crowd pleaser, just as you’d expect, with a deliciously rich toffee sauce. Slightly more inventive and on-trend is salted caramel and chocolate tart (£5.25). Serving it with Devonshire clotted cream on the side is possibly a step too far, but it is a very pleasing combination of savoury and sweet, with crystals of salt sat delicately on top.
Cask ales range from £3.35 to £3.80 a pint, with Doom Bar, Sam Brooks, Wandle and Fuller’s London Pride all making an appearance on tap. Also available are Aspels Suffolk cider (£3.95) and a full and impressive range of lagers from around the world starting with Beck Vier at a reasonable £3.55 and moving right on up to Stella Black at £4.20. But Red Stripe, Leffe, Blue Moon and San Miguel are just a few of the others also represented behind the bar. Not forgetting the party crowd, The Castle serves up a good range of spirits, too, with over 12 whiskey selections on the drinks list (starting at £3.05). The house white wine comes at £3.85 a glass or £15.50 a bottle, but a better option is the La Fonda Sauvignon Blanc (£4.45/£17.50), a very drinkable and refreshing wine.
The Last Word
A pleasing pub menu is often disappointingly overlooked at this Farringdon pub. Its prime location on the pre-club trail means it has been successful over the years for all the wrong reasons, but a smaller crowd at the weekends could signal that the tide is now turning. Regardless, The Castle still delivers to all who come through its doors or, indeed, frequent its pavements.