The idea of a ‘gastropub’ might have seemed like a bad joke back in 1991 when The Eagle was founded. Not anymore. This bird took off and flew swifter than anyone could have foreseen. Offspring has included Great Queen Street and The Anchor & Hope, while Eyre is now at the controls of Shoreditch’s Eyre Brothers.
A high-ceilinged, single-room space, the simplicity of the pub’s interior is one of its most appealing characteristics. Extensively wood-panelled, walls are painted cream, while the ceiling is a reassuring, distinguished green. Chairs and tables look to be on the rickety side – think of all the pints slammed down and steaks carved up – but that only adds to the unpretentious ambience. A few framed bits of art are almost apologetically of the same colour palette as the walls. Over behind the bar, though, there’s a larger, more striking piece, which points to this as the place to focus your attention. Indeed it is: this long thin strip, which runs from one wall almost to the windows on the other side, is truly the pub’s engine room.
At one end is the segment given over to drinks. Draught pumps, bottles of wine and spirits, chalkboards crammed with wine names and drinks prices, and a shelf topped with some forty cookery books complete the picture over here. This is where you order both food and drink.
The majority of the bar has been turned into the most open-plan of open-plan kitchens. The bar surface bears ingredients, implements and cutlery (plus a plate of tortilla). The back bar is the kitchen itself – grill, stove, pots and pans, all with a heavy-duty look. Staff in old T-shirts and aprons prowl about here, staring into the middle distance when there’s a second or two of inactivity. Above them are their wares, scrawled on chalkboards. Come and stand and look. It’s kind of an interactive menu: you’ll look at the writing, then compare and contrast with the ingredients in various containers scattered about, and the morsels cooking on the grill.
The Eagle’s co-founder David Eyre has said that the dream was for a new sort of pub culture, where boozing and decent food (his term ‘intelligent salad’ captures it well) could go on under the same roof, where builders and journalists and graphic designers could chow down next to each other. That vision is realised at the pub to this day. Staff have a laddish way about them (certainly not sniffy about those who just want a couple of pints of lager), but they’re also likely to be sensitive on matters of ethical fish sourcing, meat provenance and local vegetables. The table sharing policy, meanwhile, means you could end up bumping elbows with the society cross section envisaged by Eyre. It has to be said, though, that in terms of the local employers who furnish the restaurant with diners come lunchtime, it’s a little more likely to be media industry offices than construction sites.
There’s an Iberian feel to the offerings (you can hardly call these items scattered over four slim chalkboards a menu) but it’s by no means restrictive – kedgeree (£9.80) is no stranger to the menu, for instance. There isn’t that much to choose from, so you won’t be standing gawping for too long. The menu rotates, but there’s often a soup such as Portuguese caldo verde (around £5), a sandwich (their signature bife ana steak version is always on; £10), then more substantial plates. Recent examples include a barley pilaf with Provençal vegetables and new-season garlic puree (£7.80), orecchiette with sausage (£8) and Napoli sausage with English-style sides (£9.75), and the Turkish dish of stuffed aubergine called Imam bayildi (£7.80). There’s usually a good, substantial piece of fish from the grill, too (upwards of £10): black bream, say, or sardines. Small plates (from £3) include tortilla and boquerones. Desserts are generally limited in range: recent options have been taleggio, pear and toast, and Portuguese pastéis de nata. One of The Eagle’s strongest suits is its bread – once you’ve ordered, a little basket will be brought to your table, with cutlery, paper napkins and a generous portion of excellent sourdough (or, at least, rustic bread), along with a small bottle of good olive oil. This is an appropriate taster for what’s to come.
The majority of wines are European, and all are available by the glass (175ml) or bottle, starting at around £3.60/£14. Soft drinks are of Fentimans and Chegworth Valley calibre.
There’s a guest ale (‘Golden Arrow’ on this visit; £3.70), plus many of the usual draught ales and lagers: Bombardier, Becks Vier, Estrella Damm, Red Strip, Kirin, Löwenbräu, Guinness, Leffe. There are bottles of Corona, Sagres, Budvar and Bitburger Dry. Ciders include Addlestones on draught, plus Stowford Press and Westons Extra Dry. The Eagle IPA is the cheapest on draught at £3.20.
Cocktails and mixed drinks are surprisingly cheap – from £3.75 for a Cuba Libre to £5.90 for a Dark & Stormy.
The Last Word
This eagle hasn’t yet veered from its chosen path, and long may that continue.