From the outside The Jugged Hare looks like the imposing City boozer it must once have been. If you book a table for 7pm on a Tuesday evening, the inside of the Jugged Hare feels like that too. A mighty, heaving, shoulder-to-shoulder pack of men in dark suits, a few of whom have removed their jackets to reveal white shirts. A waitress steams past with a tray full of unidentifiable but doubtless noxious “shooters” at the high port. There’s a pervasive, pheremonal honk of career-based terror and a deep booming bull-roar of bonding, victorious men. My date, veteran of a City law firm, passes through the scrum like a sniper’s bullet through a raspberry mousse; the two provincial music teachers, up in town for a concert at the Barbican next door, also make it through but look like they’ve seen their village laid waste by Cossacks.
By 7.15pm the boys have melted away – on tubes, on buses, on expensive bicycles, to wives, sweethearts and babies, all of whom doubtless find them meek, charming and perhaps a little dull. The dining room steps down from siege mentality and the food begins to roll.
Opened by brothers Ed and Tom Martin, who also run The Gun in Docklands, The Jugged Hare ticks so many boxes of modern, no-nonsense British cookery that it almost qualifies as a theme pub. There’s an open kitchen, a rotisserie, whole crabs and big meat on the menu. A hanging rack of rabbits is a wonder of the taxidermist’s art, but the pigs’ heads displayed in a chilled cabinet on the stairs are the real deal.
The staff look boiled in green tweed waistcoats faced with, unless my unerring instinct for fine tailoring is failing, a hunting pink. They just need a smear of snipe trail worn like war-paint and a smell of cordite to complete the picture.
At the waiter’s suggestion we took the Clonakilty Irish Black Pudding Croquettes and Guinness Sauce “for the table”. Croquette is a word too seldom seen on menus and is too fey an expression for something resembling the bore of a naval shell and packed with a filling like blood blancmange. Don’t feel you can “nibble” at these, they are too good, and once you’ve loaded one in, you’re knackered for pud.
Like a dinner party, a seafood gratin can be as dull as hell if the participants are too refined. This one held back on the delicate pale types and majored on scallops and good raucous shellfish. They’d resisted the temptation to bury it in cream, instead letting it bathe in the sort of buttery, fishy juices that a man with less social graces than I would cheerfully finish off with a straw.
I chose monkfish tail, with cockles and caviar butter, which was finished on the rotisserie. It tells you all you need to know about the menu that I felt this was the effete dieter’s option. Though the open flame had given the tail more flavour than usual it had robbed it of any flexibility. It felt like gnawing Madonna’s calves. Though the service was swift throughout, the sauce, a balanced beurre blanc, had also, through some error at the pass, become rather too cool.
Braised rabbit leg, faggots, peas, bacon and grain mustard sauce was a stonking combination, with the leg so full of flavour and moisture it felt confitted. The faggots seemed a little underpowered but, to be fair, they’re a polarising food. I like mine gutty and rough, while these were altogether smoother numbers.
The selection of desserts was small and uninspiring. I assume from the suite of fabulous private dining rooms in the basement that The Jugged Hare goes gangbusters on weekday lunchtimes where, after platters of steaming flesh and flagons of claret, the only thing you need for dessert is a BlackBerry to buy half the bauxite in Brazil. Deserving of particular mention is a Kendal Mintcake Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries, which wins the award for unappetising menu item that I’ve just invented.
You can’t fault The Jugged Hare for trying - there isn’t a visual trope of Britishness, alpha-masculinity or carnivorousness that’s not drawn into service in creating the environment. An unstudied roughness around the menu may be part of the effect, but I doubt these guys would go that far. It’s perhaps likely that an audience that’s so easy to stereotype is easy to satisfy.
For me, The Jugged Hare was much as I remember rugby at school: I could see what it was for, how it worked and found it enjoyable in a detached sort of way, but in the end, I’m not sure I’m man enough to do it often.
Tim Hayward is editor of Fire & Knives and the FT’s regular restaurant critic in Nicholas Lander’s absence.
The Jugged Hare, 49 Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4SA; tel: 020 7614 0134; www.thejuggedhare.com