Bleak shuttering rates notwithstanding, London is very much a city of pubs. But The Baring – a new, food-focussed Islington bolthole from general manager par excellence Adam Symonds and chef Rob Tecwyn – feels like something different.
The clued-in will pin that ‘something’ to a particular detail. Of all the lauded places on Symonds’ and Tecwyn’s CVs (and there are many) one stands out: Highgate’s Bull & Last. Opening way back in 2008, the archetypal gastropub quietly upended the conception of what a food-driven London boozer could be. It was here that the pair first met – Symonds during a lengthy tenure as GM and Tecwyn in the kitchen – and where The Baring’s long gestation began.
Though its opening comes with relatively little fanfare – something, one realises when speaking to the pair, that might have been quietly intentional – the pub has all the hallmarks of a gem. Those looking can find those hallmarks in its borderless cooking, driven by seasonal produce and a keen eye on provenance; in the restrained and serene interiors that make the space as visually appealing as the food is memorable; and in the tucked-away location, on a quiet crescent a few minutes from the canal and a good ten from neighbourhood staples like Towpath and Pophams, placing it in something of a gastro dead-zone (for London, anyway).
Here’s everything you need to know about this classic pub in the making.
A credo of ‘less is more’ applies across the board, with a focus on nailing the fundamentals.
A considered minimalism is at the heart of The Baring, even if it’s not superficially obvious. There’s the space itself – compact in size (just 40 covers at the moment), it’s a skewed rectangle of room; all greige panelling, bare off-white walls, forest green banquettes, and retro-utilitarian metal shades. In short, it’s in possession of the kind of cool asceticism that’ll see a Modern House profile in no time.
That philosophy is also reflected in the food, which is restrained, ingredient-led and hyper-seasonal. That’s hardly original in itself – you’d be hard-pressed to find an opening without those descriptors in 2022 – but Tecwyn is self-aware. “Every chef says their food’s ingredient-led, but then they do all this mad stuff to it. Whereas ours is super stripped back – three things on a plate and very little fluff, using the best stuff that’s available at the right time.”
It’s made possible by consummate shopping. Fruit and veg comes from Primeur; while seafood is sourced through Cornwall’s Flying Fish. For butchery they use the Rhug Estate, which farms with 100% organic and regenerative principles, on 12,500 acres spread around the wilds of north Wales. Throw in a wine list that skews natural, and a commitment to a 48-hour work week for staff, and you’ve got a spot paying more than just lip-service to virtue.
The menu is a seamless grab-bag of global influences, with a keenly sourced Old World wine list.
The Baring’s menu is relentlessly intriguing: a mishmash of rustic British and pan-European, with a smattering of far-flung global elements. There’s a quail shish, with garlic yoghurt and pul biber chilli; a sharer of grilled Normande beef rib with chimichurri; Cornish hake with tropea onion and tarama; and so on.
Tecwyn picks out a salt marsh lamb rump – served with baba ganoush, falafel-spiced crispy chickpeas and barbecued friggitelli – and a dish of pig’s cheek, smoked eel and daikon, as particular examples of this global nuance. It’s a “sort-of terrine”, he says of the latter. Layers of braised cheek sandwich the eel, and the lot is pressed, sliced and flash-fried, before being plated with horseradish ketchup for acidity and a Japanese-style chicken tare reduction, and topped with a pickled daikon and wakame. “Maybe I’ve made it sound a lot more complicated than it is!” Tecwyn adds. “It really isn’t.”
As one would expect with keen sourcing as credo, the Old World wine list (with a sole South African chenin) is low-intervention, organic and biodynamic. Or, says Symonds, “working to those standards. You can tell the people doing it well a mile away, and we only use suppliers that work with good wineries.”
Chuck in a few sours, rustic saisons and spontaneous fermentation lambic beers, plus a concise cocktail selection (including a heatwave appropriate cherry tequila sour) and you’ve got a fully formed hit on the pass. Chin chin to that – and the rest of it.
Its founders may have cosmic resumés, but it’s not all about them.
After the Bull & Last, the duo peeled off: Symonds launching Orasay with Jackson Boxer, before returning to the B&L for its 2020 re-opening. Meanwhile, Tecwyn took up at Sam and Sam Clarke’s powerhouse Moro, before rising to head chef at the acclaimed Dabbous and then senior sous at Tom Kerridge’s Bar & Grill at the Corinthia. But the seed of what would become their new project was sown, even if the process of bringing it together took time.
Despite their backgrounds, Symonds and Tecwyn ultimately craved something simpler and more holistic for The Baring: a place, says Symonds, serving “good ingredients cooked well, on a plate, and not fucked around with too much”.
“I want people to come away not thinking about much other than they had a really nice meal, in a cool setting, with some banging wine. That’s it,” elaborates Tecwyn. “I really don’t want it to be about me,” he continues, citing nearby Westerns Laundry as a precedent in hawking similarly produce-led cooking, where “everything’s delicious and no one really knows who the chef is”. It’s a refreshing diversion from the regular procession of concept-heavy, personality-driven openings that tends to dominate London’s food press.
Ultimately, The Baring is a pub – but it’s breaking the constraints of what that means.
From the timeless signage and prominent bar lined with elegant taps, to the tranquil position on a sleepy N1 back street, The Baring is conspicuously, undeniably a pub. But Symonds and Tecwyn are keen to upend the model’s traditional limitations. For them, doing a pub rather than a restaurant has been liberating. In their minds, a pub is a more neutral space: blowing open the remit for what they can serve, without having to adhere to the usual food-world taxonomies.
“I think the beauty of it is that you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself,” explains Tecwyn, whose cooking refracts broadly Asian, Turkish and North African influences through a wider ‘modern European’ prism. “Normally, you have to be a French restaurant, or an Italian or a British restaurant. We’re just a pub.”
Despite this, they’re cognisant of the fact that this gives them a social role – especially given Islington’s eclectic demographic. The Baring’s food might be boundary-breaking, but it’s still the kind of place that’ll welcome walk-ins and casual drinkers. “It’s been a boozer, on and off, for 200 years,” says Symonds. “There’s a strong feeling in an area when people take on a pub because it’s part of the community – they really are something that binds people together.”