Gordon Ramsay's gastropub kingdom expanded earlier this year into London's Maida Vale. Joanna Wood checks out his latest mid-priced venue
The Warrington, the newest member of Gordon Ramsay's pub portfolio, flung open its doors in February following a major refurbishment. Perched in a prime position off a plant-strewn roundabout not far from Lord's cricket ground, this Victorian survivor is an imposing presence in the quiet residential backwaters of Maida Vale.
Walk through its impressive portico over an intricate mosaic floor into the cavernous downstairs lounge bar - very William Morris in decor: lots of swirls, dark wood, chesterfields and chandeliers - and you are hit by a welcoming waft of food aromas, thanks, you suspect, to the range of traditional pies offered on the bar menu with - what else? - mash.
However, it's upstairs in the altogether more modern 82-seat dining room where the heart of the Warrington's food credentials lie. Here, although it retains a certain amount of rusticity, the food is more refined, reflecting the contemporary beige-fantastic clean lines of the restaurant.
The menu is predominantly British with the occasional foreign influence. Sharpham spelt risotto with Devonshire Blue sits alongside potted Goosnargh duck with sourdough toast (both £6.75). Tweaked seasonally, it kicked off with heartier winter fare, which has now given way to lighter dishes such as scallops with pea purée and mint vinaigrette.
As with its sister pubs, the Narrow and the Devonshire, both also in London, the driving force behind the Warrington is executive chef Mark Sargeant, who juggles this role alongside his day job as head chef at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's. "I create the menus with my chefs who work at the pubs. The idea is to cook simply made dishes, executed well, made from great local ingredients," explains Sargeant. "I would say 90% of our produce is sourced from the UK," he adds.
Specifically at the Warrington, Secretts Farm in Kent supplies salad leaves - baby watercress, pea shoots, etc - and also the new-season tomatoes served with a balsamic vinaigrette (£5.75), as well as English asparagus, which is accompanied by a suitably runny soft-boiled duck egg (£6.75). Both dishes are going down a treat, according to the Warrington's head chef Daniel Kent (previously of Skylon and the Wolseley), but he is puzzled by how diners tackle the asparagus and egg. "They use knives and forks. We expected them to pick up the asparagus like soldiers for dipping into the egg."
Other current best sellers include a main of suckling pig, sourced from Pugh's Piglets in Lancashire, which comes with Braeburn apple and mustard (£13.50), and a steak tartare (£6.95/£13.75). This sold well when the pub was packed with cricket fans during the recent first Test between England and New Zealand.
However, the pub isn't reliant on sport to keep it buzzing. Local residents and business professionals help it to clock up weekday covers of about 60 at lunch and 110 at dinner on a regular basis - spending about £20 per head, or £32 if they're on expenses. Weekends, particularly Sunday evenings, are even busier.
It's proof that Sargeant and Kent are hitting the spot with their variety of dishes and seasonal tweaks. The menu splits into starters, crustacean (crayfish, Cornish crab, and oysters), soups, salads, meat and grills, fish, sides and desserts.
Desserts comprise chocolate and various treacly tarts. "Puds always have a place," confirms Kent, but there's also the first flush of summer strawberries to enjoy, in a traditional trifle and accompanying a buttermilk panna cotta (both £6).
English cheeses are also on display: Tunworth, Devonshire Blue and the Cheddar-like Doddington regularly appear. Wines include classic names, such as a 2005 Chianti from Innocenti (£23), Chablis produced by Domaine Moreau-Naudet (£27) and New World Merlot in the form of a 2005 Thelema from Stellenbosch in South Africa (£36). Nyetimber is offered among the bubblies, and there's a strong British showing of bottled beers and cider, including the Organic Best Bitter from St Peter's brewery in Suffolk (£3.85).
Playing the Brit card is proving a winner at the Warrington and, despite the current financial crunch, the Ramsay group's gastropub portfolio looks well set, on this evidence, for further expansion.
The Warrington, 93 Warrington Crescent, Maida Vale, London W9 1EH. Tel: 020 7592 7960.
What's on the menu
â- Half-dozen/dozen Dorset snails with parsley butter, £6.75/£12.50
â- Ham hock terrine with piccalilli, £6.75
â- Grilled mackerel with Jersey Royal salad, £13.50
â- Dedham Vale rib-eye, chips and sauce choron, £18.50
â- Navarin of lamb, £19.50
â- Banana split, £6
â- Chocolate fondant with crème fraÁ®che ice-cream, £6
â- Strawberry trifle, £8.50