I first heard the rumours several weeks ago. A new "gastropub" has opened in south London, not far from where I live. Apparently, it's no ordinary gastropub. For one thing, the idea that it could be a "pub" isn't a complete joke. And the food is unusually original. I make a mental note to investigate further.
On Saturday night, I go there with three friends. From outside, the Anchor & Hope doesn't look like a gastropub. It's in an unprepossessing building on a nondescript corner. It's the kind of place that, most of the time, you'd walk right past. Through the windows, what you see isn't encouraging.
Nor, when you get inside, does the situation improve. Lots of people, none of them eating, are crammed into a small space. The atmosphere is noisy and dingy. You think: this isn't a restaurant; this is a pub. Then, on the wall, you notice a blackboard on which is chalked phrases such as "Potato soup and foie gras" and "Roast suckling kid leg, fennel and olives". You notice that the price of the suckling kid is £55, but also that it is "for three". Next to the blackboard is a curtain, on the other side of which are lots more people sitting round tables.
If you think you are about to join them, however, you're mistaken. My friends and I grab a waitress. Can we get a table? "You're looking at a three-hour wait. Well, two if you're lucky." It's now 6.30. We'd deliberately come early, because we'd heard the Anchor & Hope doesn't take bookings. But three hours? We settle down at the bar, drink beers, kir royals, sherry. By the time we finally get to our table, it is 8.30.
For starters, we choose separately, but for our main course we opt for the cassoulet for four (£48). The service, it hardly needs to be said, is patchy. And the food? Well, it is special. My starter of crab on toast (I'd decided against the potato soup and foie gras) is deliciously fresh. Equally good is a dish of cockles, leeks and bacon. Best of all is a salad of beetroot with goat's curd. The sourness of the curd perfectly complements the beetroot. Goat's cheese - the obvious choice - would have been too creamy.
And then the cassoulet arrives. A large gratin dish is placed on our table, full of haricot beans and different cuts of meat. We help ourselves. "It's just like going out to eat at home," says my friend. And she's right. But this is not the creation of your average domestic chef. The cuts of meat - duck, pork, liver - are amazingly tender. We scoff the lot, before moving on to dessert. By the time we finally stagger out, it is after midnight. We toy briefly with the idea of going on to a bar, but this being London, everywhere is shut. Instead, we go our separate ways, feeling drunk, full and happy.
Anchor & Hope, 36 The Cut, London SE1 8LP (020 7928 9898)