The Eagle's forward-thinking owner, Michael Belben, now has his hand in two other gastro pubs, says Mark Taylor, and they're both in our top 30, too
The Eagle Farringdon Road, London EC1R. Tel:0207 837 1353
In a way, all roads in the world of gastro pubs lead to the Eagle. With a hand in three businesses in our top 10, it would also appear that all roads lead to Michael Belben. Of course, there were other good food pubs before it (think Franco Taruschio at the Walnut Tree in Abergavenny back in the 1960s and Denis Watkin's Angel, number four in out Top 30), but when Belben and his chef and business partner, David Eyre, opened the Eagle in 1991, they changed the face of British dining-out forever.
In the Eagle cookbook, Big Flavours and Rough Edges, Belben says he has always been bemused about why the Eagle became regarded as such an influential place. "It was always obvious that simple, intelligent food was what London pubs lacked," he said.
With its tiny open kitchen (with room for just two chefs) next to the bustling bar, its car boot sale furniture adn crackling pub atmosphere, little has changed at the Eagle in the 15 years since it re-opened under its new owners on Farringdon Road. As much a drinking pub (and hang-out for journalists from the Guardian offices a few paces down the road) as a destination food venue, customers still have to order food at the bar.
In the past 15 years, chefs may have come and gone, menus have evolved, but the rustic, Portuguese and Medterranean- inspired food is pretty much the same in a menu that changes with each services, but can include mussel linguine, chilli lemon, garlic and parsley or Taleggio and dried fig on toast.
Prices remain reasonable with main courses rarely tipping the £12 mark, and tapas dishes such as smoked mackerel and beetroot still a popular bar snack option. There are six red wines and six white by the glass at all times and Charles Wells real ales, including Eagle IPA.
A few former Eagle chefs have gone on to run kitchens of their own, including Trish Hilferty at the Fox Dining Room, while Tom Norrington-Davies is now a celebrated food writer.
Michael now has a hand in the Fox Dining Room in Clerkenwell and the Anchor and Hope in Waterloo, but he can often be spotted in all three pubs, keeping an eye on things. The gastro-pub world would be a far less interesting place without him.
Behind the scenes at...The Eagle
Owners/licensees: Michael Belben
Head chef: Ed Mottershaw
Wet:dry split: 45:55
Covers a week: 800+
Covers for diners: 65 inside, 24 outside
On the menu: Beef lasagne, Savoy cabbage and green salad; baked skate, lentils and Romesco; braised quails, pomegranate, cream and mashed potato.
Best-selling dishes: Bife Ana Eagle steak sandwich (see recipe, above); Feijoada Portuguese pork and bean stew; baked sea bream with tomatoes
Top tip: Manager Alun Thomas says: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. They got it right at the beginning and we're doing the same thing, only improving the standard and keeping the edge and maintaining the pub atmosphere."
New for 2006: "The menu's always evolving, but apart from that, it's business as usual."
Bife Ana - the Eagle steak sandwich
Ingredients (serves two)
500g/1lb 2oz rump steak - thinly sliced
2 large crusty rolls - we use stone-baked Portuguese rolls called carcacas
2 tbsp olive oil
Cos lettuce leaves
For the marinade
1 onion - thinly sliced
1 garlic clove - chopped
1 small dried chilli - crushed
1 bay leaf - broken up
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp red wine
3 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Mix together all the ingredients for the marinade, add the steak and leave to marinate for a few hours (but no longer than 8 hours).
Remove the steaks from the marinade, then strain the marinade and set aside.
Warm the rolls in a medium oven. Heat a heavy-based frying pan until very, very hot, then add the olive oil and fry the steaks very quickly. If your pan is hot enough, they will need to be turned within a minute.
Remove the steaks and keep warm, then add the dry ingredients from the marinade to the pan with some salt.
Cut the rolls in half and arrange the Cos lettuce and then the steaks on the lower halves. Add the strained marinade liquid to the pan and let this reduce a little, then pour into the top halves of the rolls.
Close the sandwiches and eat immediately, with both hands.
Taken from the book Big Flavours and Rough Edges, Recipes from the Eagle by David Eyre