The Compass is unprepossessing, stuck in a desolate spot between Islington and Kings Cross in Penton Street. Pentonville Road is one of the cheapest properties on the Monopoly board, and as with so much of London, the relative property values on the board, developed in the 1930s, show remarkable accuracy. Mayfair and Park Lane are still the priciest areas, while Whitechapel and the Old Kent Road are still nowhere that a tycoon would aspire to live; in fact it is hard to find an area where the relative value is very different, which is worth bearing in mind when an estate agent tells you that an area is “up and coming”.
The pub has wooden floor and darkly painted walls and ceiling, lending a somewhat gloomy effect to the room. The wine list fitted on a page, with wines mostly ranging from £13.50 - £40. Examples were Ferrand white Burgundy 2006 at £34 compared to a retail price of about £11 and Ondarre Rioja reserve £36 for a wine that costs a tenner to buy. For those wishing to celebrate, a relative bargain was Dom Perignon at £130, which is pretty much what it costs to buy these days. Starters were £5-£8, mains £13-£22 (with vegetables £3 and the bread £2.50), desserts £4.
Scotch egg was made from duck meat, served cut in half with a liquid egg centre; it was served cold despite the egg, so I presume the egg is placed into the previously prepared duck meat container at the last minute. Though pleasant and nicely seasoned (3/10), it was not a patch on the version at the Harwood Arms, which admittedly has single-handedly redefined the dish. Bread was made from scratch (charged for separately) and was a choice of rolls: plain, cheese and cumin seeds with black pudding. I enjoyed the cheese bread most; I am a big fan of people making their own bread rather than buying it in (4/10).
My starter of a trio of small scallops each had a little blob of pleasant pea puree, one scallop garnished with a slice of bacon. The scallops were cooked correctly and were seasoned pleasantly (3/10). Of other dishes sampled, sardines on toast were decent, a leek and potato soup with haddock was a little thin, while snails with garlic puree and parsley oil were good and served in a generous portion.
For main course I had saddle of venison, two large saddles offered with a slab of beetroot “dauphinoise” and a celeriac puree with a thick jus flavoured with ceps. The venison was nicely cooked and the sauce rich and dark, though the doorstop slab of beetroot had some of the flavour drained out of it in the cooking process (3/10). Brill with chorizo was pleasant, cep Wellington was a fine idea with decent pastry though a little dry, and steak was pleasant. Chips were a little odd, certainly home-made and crisp but very dry. Portions were very generous, to the point of being American.
Dessert was less successful: rhubarb tart tattin. I recently had my first rhubarb tart tatin when working on Masterchef the Professionals (cooked by Marianne Lumb, who made it to the finals), and this was my second exposure to the dish. Sadly this version did not work, with a mix of under-cooked rhubarb and ultra-sticky caramel with slightly under-cooked pastry not combining well at all (0/10). Staff were extremely pleasant throughout the evening, and this is certainly a cut above the average gastropub. Not all the dishes worked but at least the kitchen here is trying hard to cook real food.