East Meets West in WC1: Scarfes Bar
People talk all the time about stumbling upon amazing bars and restaurants in London that easily go unnoticed. Usually though, these are down narrow alleyways, or have entrances obscured by scaffolding or antique urinals. To have one of these discoveries sitting on the busy High Holborn, inside a wonderfully grand building that I’ve passed by countless times before was a little embarrassing for me – how could I not have come in here before?
Rosewood London is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city, and going through the grand arched carriageway entrance and into Scarfes Bar, you can immediately appreciate why. The marble walls and expanses of polished oak bookcases house a wonderful collection of leather and velvet armchairs – this is designed to be a place of comfort as well as style.
Looking over the menu, we saw that there was no shortage of cuisines – European luxuries sat alongside spiced creations from India. I decided to go for a combination of the two, and chose the pulled pork sandwich, with pineapple and pencil asparagus. Since London was struck with pulled pork mania a couple of years ago, there has been no end of trendy pop-up openings around the city, all championing their own versions of the meat of the moment. 95% of them are the same. Scarfes Bar though has truly developed a unique recipe.
Nestled inside an incredibly light brioche bun, the meat escaped the wetness that so much pulled pork seems to come with. Instead, it was dark, firm, and had been cooked in a subtle blend of spices that gave it a subtle but welcome kick. The addition of the pineapple was a brilliant touch – the thin slices added sweetness to the end of the pork’s spice. The sandwich, despite being a starter, was a substantial size, but the lightness of the bun avoided any stodginess.
For our more traditional starter, we also ordered clove smoked mackerel with brioche and crab ketchup. The way the mackerel was prepared was absolutely ideal – lots of restaurants tend to over-process the fish so that it turns unnaturally smooth. Paired with the tangy crab ketchup, the mackerel in Scarfes Bar is textured and rich.
This theme of incredible textures was furthered when the half of lobster thermidor arrived at the table. With a shell so red that it seemed to glow, the lobster meat itself was immensely juicy, and not overly chewy as lobster can often be. To complement it, we were recommended a couple of Indian twists – aloo matter (a Punjabi dish of potatoes and peas in a spiced tomato sauce), and some fragrant pilau rice.
With a selection of hearty casseroles available, we also ordered the game sausage, lentil and red wine stew. Arriving in a steaming cast-iron pot, we were delighted to see no less than 4 sausages inside. Cutting into them, the unmistakable redness of the game meat was clear to see, while the red wine in the sauce had rounded off the smokiness of the meat perfectly.
Even though we barely had room for dessert, the sight of the coconut rice pudding with mango on the menu was too tempting to pass up. The fruit didn’t just sit on the top of the pudding, but ran down the centre of the entire dish, ensuring the creaminess of the rice always had a subtle sweetness to balance it out.
The leisurely atmosphere and grand but comforting setting of Scarfes Bar makes this a wonderfully inviting choice for lunch. However, when we asked about the piano in the corner, we were told that in the evenings the bar is transformed – the curtains are drawn, candles are lit, and live jazz music kicks off with gusto. With its sweeping bar and intimate nooks, Scarfes has the kind of timeless style and character that can pull off such a transformation with flair – we’ll definitely be back to confirm!