Social Meat Club at The Sun and 13 Cantons – Great Pulteney Street
Posted on November 26, 2014
The Sun and 13 Cantons is a complete and utter mouthful. It’s also a pub with a difference.
First, lets clear up the name. It derives from the Swiss woolen merchants that used to be nearby. The 13 Cantons, it turns out, correspond to the sovereign territories of early modern Switzerland. ‘The Sun’ part? Who knows? Maybe it was shining on its founder, a likely story because it’s been a blooming success for ages.
Since the mid Eighteenth Century it’s been everything from a Masonic Lodge to an electro music venue. The late Nineties even saw names like Carl Cox and The Chemical Brothers grace the decks of its basement bar.
But things have changed a bit since then. Recently the Fuller’s Brewery pub have changed the focus of their residencies, collaborating not only with DJs, but creative kitchen teams in an attempt to reinvigorate the hackneyed pub grub that we’ve become so accustomed to. Their Parisian style dining room plays host to exciting pop-up restaurants, the latest of which, Social Meat Club, is around for the next two months and is well worth a visit.
But it’s still very much a pub. You pay at the bar with cash; you have to take your own drinks back to the table, and are made to feel like a leper when you don’t order a pint. ‘Our ginger beer is non alcoholic’ the barman kindly reminded me with a mixture of surprise and condescension, as if he’d never heard someone order a soft drink on a Thursday lunchtime (it is the start of the weekend after all).
And who can blame him? Up until now, what had been the point of going to a pub if you weren’t going to booze to help you throught the afternoon slog at the office? Certainly not soggy fish and chips or a microwaved pie and mash. But, for the time being at least, teetotalers as well as tosspots can hit up The Sun and 13 Cantons for a good reason: the knockout food.
According to their menu, Social Meat Club marries traditional British with a Scandinavian twist. Sounds worrying, I know. Scandinavians haven’t the best reputation for cooking. You only have to go to an Ikea café to realise that. And with this in mind, one may be forgiven for heading to SMC expecting bits of indeterminate meat to be bullied by dill, partnered with lingonberry and served up on sections of cheap, flat-pack furniture.
But I needn’t have worried. The food was comfort refined, just the ticket to get you through a harsh, dark winter. And their wasn’t a ropey meatball in sight. Smoked chicken sausages were so meaty you could be forgiven for thinking they were pork. The earthy cep puree (I’d love to know a better way to eat mushrooms) and sweet onion jam the perfect complement. Buttermilk chicken wings with a cabbage and chilli slaw and charred corn mayo were about as Nordic as I am, but great nonetheless. Lovely chunks of hot smoked salmon with pickled fennel, radish and cucumber on sourdough was about as traditional as it got.
Mains were difficult to choose. Lamb, deer and pigeon; mussels, pork and monkfish filled an extensive menu. I had the Ox. Cottage pie of the cheek with smoked bone marrow mash and carrots. It wasn’t really a pie at all. Just a whopping great cheek, slow cooked and gelatinous so that it barely required chewing, topped with a piping of lightly torched mash.
The entire bill came in at under £20. I would have paid that for a bowl of the smokey, anisey juice leftover from the cheek. The value for money was astonishing. Proper restaurant food at pub prices.
Preserving by way of smoking, salting and pickling is so trendy right now nearly every modern restaurant can be guilty of ‘doing Scandinavian’. But few have got a balance like Social Meat Club. The cooking is uncontrived and honest, it’s the best thing to happen to a pub since the smoking ban. It’s just a shame it isn’t here to stay.