Four Legs at the Compton Arms, Islington: ‘Playful takes on pub grub’

Compton Arms, Islington
Compton Arms, Islington. Photograph: Vicki Couchman

Tucked away on a pretty residential street in Canonbury, the Compton Arms feels like it should be in Chipping Norton rather than within spitting distance of Highbury and Islington tube.

No wonder it is thought to have inspired George Orwell’s love letter to the perfect London pub in 1946 – “only two minutes from a bus stop, but on a side street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights”.

Since Orwell’s day the pub has been delicately modernised, retaining a snug fireside feel but without the sense that regulars will turn and greet any new faces with a dead-eyed stare.

Though named after Denis Compton, a “local boy” who was a famous cricketer and footballer (so I’m told), it’s much more than just a sports pub.

With house plants next to the TV screens it manages to straddle many genres of boozer, from family-friendly Sunday roast to North London derby day.

‘A farmers’ market Big Mac’: the Four Legs cheeseburger. Photograph: Four Legs

Recently taken over by the owners of The Gun in Homerton, it also has a new kitchen – ‘Four Legs’, named after the famous line in Animal Farm: “Four legs good, two legs bad”.

Appropriately – or perhaps not when you think about it too much – the menu does not shy away from championing meat.

We start with some classic pubs snacks that have been refined and bistro-ised, a common theme across the menu.

First up are chicken scratchings – delicious to everyone apart from the person that has to frequently smell the jar they’re kept in, according to our server.

‘Grown-up’: the cod chana. Photograph: Four Legs

The deep fried chicken skins are the dream beer accompaniment, salty, moreish and far less likely to dislodge a tooth filling than their traditional pork counterpart.

Next is sourdough with beef butter. After much discussion we conclude that beef butter is indeed the best of all the butters, complete with salt crystals and an irresistible hint of meatiness.

Could I eat this on toast in the morning? Yes, absolutely.

Pork belly skewers follow. At £7 for two not-very-large sticks of meat it’s pricey. But juicy, sweet and dripping with a barbequed honey glaze they are arguably worth it.

A welcome break from the unapologetically meaty menu arrives in the form of cheese and chive fritas, among the small but considered veggie options on offer.

Heaped with pungent parmesan (ok, maybe not strictly vegetarian…), they are your favourite posh brand of cheese and onion crisps in deep fried ball form.

‘Cheese and onion crisps in ball form’: The fritas are one of the veggie offerings.
Photograph: Four Legs

The first dish that could be considered a proper main course is the cod chana.

It feels more grown-up than the rest of the menu so far, the melting cod sat on a bed of beautifully balanced chana that has a subtle sharpness to it and the ideal level of burn at the back of your mouth.

But to finish we return to the playful takes on pub grub that the Four Legs team excels at.

Simply described as a ‘cheeseburger’ on the menu, it is essentially a farmers’ market Big Mac.

I am genuinely unsettled by its uncanny resemblance to a late-night Maccy D’s, but constructed from quality fresh ingredients and without the haunting regret afterwards.

It is a thing of wonder and will doubtless have plenty of people coming back for more.