The Britannia has had something of a makeover recently.
When I told this to my father, who used to spend far too many evenings in pubs like this around High Street Kensington when he should have been at home reading us all bedtime stories (instead we had to put up with our overly theatrical au pair Sabine: Where The Wild Things Are sounds all wrong in a Parisian accent, and it doesn’t need all those hand gestures, thank you very much) he very nearly shed a tear.
I could understand his consternation. In fact, a few months ago, one of my favourite Shropshire taverns partially transformed itself into an ice cream parlour (I happen to know that the landlord is lactose intolerant, so it’s a doubly bizarre move) and now resembles something of a cross between the less convincing sets in the movie Grease and a Bruno Mars video. The Britannia, however, has come out looking just fine: all tweed clad chairs and olive green walls, it reminded me slightly of a Hackett Flagship store, which is far less of a slur than it sounds ( I’ve always been very fond of their shirts.)
We started with the Great Exhibition, a sizeable sharing platter with potted shrimp, scotch eggs, whitebait, and not nearly enough toast. My dining companion was struck suddenly with a pang of guilt upon discovering she didn’t like whitebait: “what terrible little lives they must have had. And all so someone like me can decide not to eat them”. As we got round to the black pudding Scotch egg, however, this angst had mostly disappeared, and, by the time I began rationing out the pork belly squares, she was holding court on noughties rom-com Wimbledon starring Paul Bettany, so she can’t have been that upset. Pork products of this calibre, it seems, are immune from metaphysical probing.
After this I had a perfectly nice Beef Burger with cheese and ‘Kechonnaise’, which is a actually just a really bloody stupid way of describing that sauce that all children very quickly learn to make at Burger King when faced with a bored au pair who won’t let you eat meat for fear of BSE (she was French, so sort of fair enough), a large fries, and one sachet apiece of mayonnaise and ketchup. Mind you, last time I was in Burger King they told me they no longer give out mayonnaise gratis, because ‘supplies are running low’. If that’s true of the mayonnaise status quo in this country, then perhaps the Britannia is wise to cut its own stash with ketchup.
On the table next to us sat a group of smartly dressed Americans. As each course was brought out, they cooed and flapped sweetly, taking photos of themselves next to the apple and cinnamon crumble, and daring each other to try the “Scottish eggs”. Finally, one of the older men leaned over to me and said “isn’t it just the sweetest place you’ve ever seen? Or isn’t it?” Slightly confused by this syntax, I hazarded an answer of “it isn’t?”, which was obviously the wrong thing to say because he very quickly took his hand off my shoulder and huffed outside with a cigar. I still can’t work out whether my answer was a positive or a negative one, and, despite feeling awful that I might have offended that nice American man, I think this accidental indifference nicely sums up my thoughts on The Britannia as a whole.
The Britannia Kensington was reviewed by Joe Bullmore