The Havelock Tavern has been plying its trade for over a decade now, serving superior pub food since 1996 in residential Brook Green, with even a cookbook (“Cooking Without Fuss) to its name. The current chef is James Howarth, who has worked mostly in pubs (including a brief stint at the Harwood Arms) and has produced an appealing menu of British dishes that changes daily. The dining room is nothing out of the ordinary, with tables arrayed around the bar, no tablecloths and a wooden floor. No reservations are taken.
The two page wine list has wide international coverage, with plenty of wines under £30. Mendoza Villa Vieja Malbec Shiraz 2009 was £16.75 for a wine that costs around £5.30 retail, Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2009 was £26.50 for a wine that will set you back a tenner in the shops, while at the upper end of the list Jacques Mestre 2003 “Cuvee des Sommeliers” was £46.50 for a wine that cost around £16.50 to buy retail; if you have something to celebrate then Laurent Perrier is £71.50 for a champagne you can buy in the shops for around £27. The first clue that you are in better than pub territory is when the bread arrives: this is baked twice daily from scratch on the premises, and tonight featured good white bread and excellent olive and tomato bread (14/20, with the Mediterranean bread perhaps a notch higher).
My rustic spicy tomato, puy lentil and smoked bacon soup (£5) was a thick broth with punchy flavours, the lentils properly cooked, carefully seasoned with a nice smoky note from the bacon (comfortably 13/20). My main course was plaice (£14) cooked on the bone, the fish accurately timed, with crisp skin and moist flesh, served with excellent sautéed ratte potatoes, mushy peas, braised cherry tomatoes (in December?) and some tartare sauce that was perhaps superfluous. For me the dish would have been improved by simplifying it to just the plaice, peas and potatoes, but it is hard to argue with the technical execution (13/20).
Dessert felt the least assured part of the menu, with a rather elaborate offering of pistachio, olive oil and lemon cake with orange ice cream that seemed rather at odds with the pub theme. “Chocolate Nemesis” (£5) was a chocolate cake recipe adapted from a River Café recipe. This had pleasant texture, but sadly the top quality Valhona chocolate used in the original had also slipped away, replaced by a decent but less satisfactory (Barry) chocolate (11/20). Coffee was fine.
Service was perfectly acceptable for a pub, though I was a little perplexed at how I was to eat my soup with a knife and fork. With starters well under a tenner, main courses at £9 - £14.50 and desserts at a fiver this is good value for what is being produced. To be sure these are not luxury ingredients, but there was barely a technical error to be seen in my meal tonight, something that I could wish for in plenty of grander and pricier restaurants. I will happily return.