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The Compton Arms

British / Pub  in  Islington
Written by

n.b. Belly are now in the kitchen at The Compton Arms.

Almost nothing in London is reinvented more often than the pub. Pubs here switch from old to new, from families to football, and from crisps to croquettes in a matter of months. Depending on the preferred reinvention, all it takes is: 1) a craft beer tap, 2) a big screen, or 3) an industrial amount of breadcrumbs. And in the case of the reinvention of The Compton Arms, it’s a little bit of all three.

For much of its modern life, The Compton Arms has been a back alley, bungalow-like neighbourhood pub behind Upper Street almost solely serving local Arsenal fans. Now, it’s gone a bit gastro. The carpets have come out and the cod’s roe has come in. There are still TVs here, but there’s tagliatelle too. You can get a pint of bitter, as well as the best burger in London.

It’s the food that’s made the Compton - once a ‘drop a pin please’ pub - a destination. The small plates menu is of the sharing and always changing variety, but you’ll probably find these changes to be both a blessing and a curse. That’s because for every 100% slurpable bowl of XO mussels, there are some middling pig’s head tacos. For every bone-crunchingly-good fried quail with truffle and honey, there are some take it or leave it chicken wings. The hits are like volleying gum directly into a bin. The misses, well, they miss.

Giulia Verdinelli

Despite this there is one mainstay on the menu: the cheeseburger. The Compton Arms was a favourite of George Orwell’s and supposedly inspired some of his writing. What would he write about this cheeseburger? Who cares. This thing is the proverbial shit, and you shouldn’t be speaking, or writing, or doing anything other than getting through it. First the glistening bun, then into a layer of onion, gherkin, and sauce, before hitting some melted American cheese on top of a pink but crisp pattie. There’s more than a hint of an ode to a certain Ronald McDonald about this burger and that ode, by the way, is the kind of writing we’re interested in.

Crowd-wise both indoors and outdoors is almost constantly humming. Especially when the patio screen is showing football. And though the demographic does now definitely skew younger, there’s still a mix of heads at the bar. Just these days some are here for burrata, as well as booze. Lots of these changes are thanks to the people in the kitchen, Four Legs, who clearly know what they’re doing. Familiarity is a pub’s best friend and the menu could probably do with a few more permanent fixtures, burger aside. After all, there’s only so much reinvention one pub can take.

Food Rundown

The menu changes weekly at The Compton Arms, but this is the kind of stuff you can expect.

Whipped Cod’s Roe On Toast

When something tastes this good, this smooth, you won’t care if they’ve whipped, insulted, or made it wear a leash.

Giulia Verdinelli
Dexter Cheeseburger

An outstanding piece of beefy, buttery, craftsmanship. This is all meat, cheese, sauce, and gherkins: no lettuce. And that’s just how we like it. If you’re not into McDonalds-style burgers, you may not like this. In which case, you may not like us. Sorry not sorry.

Giulia Verdinelli
Mussels Chard XO

Mussels are a regular here and this bowl of juicy plump numbers in spicy XO sauce is the best we’ve had. If there’s anything similar to this on, order it. It’s perfect with a pint.

Fried Quail Summer Truffle

The Bone Cruncher sounds like a particularly crap B movie character. Only when you’re eating this fried quail covered in a sweet truffle sauce, you’ll be the cruncher. Crunching through crispy batter, juicy meat, and maybe even a few bones.

Pig’s Head Tacos

A taco you can’t feasibly half roll is not our kind of taco. The meat is juicy enough. There’s just far, too, much.

Cheese Curd And Leeks

If you’re not into a plate of salty cheese and soft leeks all slopped onto wedges of sourdough that probably drops onto your jeans, are you even human?

Giulia Verdinelli
Squid, Green Sauce, Sweetcorn

Sweetcorn, like the mullet, is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment. And to be frank, we approve of this renaissance much more. The sweetcorn is charred, the squid soft, and the sauce perfectly herby.

Watermelon, Mint, And Salted Ricotta

A perfectly pleasant summer plate of food.

Chicken Wings And Curry Sauce

Just like your CV, this reads superbly on paper. In reality, the wings are nice and crunchy, but the katsu dipping sauce is quite underwhelming. We don’t mind getting messy. You don’t mind getting messy. Throw it all over.

Pork Belly, Brown Shrimp, Carrot

You can see what this is trying to do. Asian-inspired, vinegar-dressed, pork chucks, carrot, chilli, shrimp, and peanuts. It just feels and tastes like a fridge leftover job.

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