I've spoken about hygge here before - the great Danish concept to which our nearest equivalent word is probably cosy, like a big wintery hug - although on that occasion I was with a tee-total and love sick Stealth and ended up drinking all the negronis and cuddling up with myself.
This time I had a dinner date with my darling wife at The Anchor and Hope, one of London's first gastropubs. An epithet that, over a decade after they opened, probably sounds like being damned with faint praise, but the Anchor and Hope blazed the trail headed by St John and the Eagle that saw stripped back British food firmly back on the map.
It also must be a leading proponent in the no bookings game, except for their Sunday lunch, when you can now reserve in advance. While it might be an ongoing frustration for some, at least you can cosy up in the 'pub bit' next door, or outside if the weather's not inclement, with a nice bottle of red while you wait for your table to be called. Which is just what we did.
The first paragraph of Matthew Fort's review - back in the early 2000s when below the line didn't exist, so no comments moaning about London-centrictism (although south of the river was barely classed as London then) - simply recited the menu, and all these years later I could happily do the same.
Warm snail and bacon salad, jerusalem artichoke soup with foie gras, whole turbot roasted in duck fat, seven hour Swaledale lamb and potato dauphinoise, suet crusted pheasant and chestnut pie, Longhorn mince and tatties, buttermilk pudding and salted caramel sauce. I would go on but I'm in danger of short-circuiting my keyboard
In the end it had to be the cassoulet for two, a bubbling earthenware dish crammed with garlicky sausage hunks, slabs of pork belly, confit duck gizzards and a leg, sticking majestically from the burnished breadcrumb and parsley speckled surface. If a picture says a thousand words then I think this one is saying oof repeatedly with a Gallic undertone.
The main reason that this got the nod above the other assorted delights on offer is it was the same dish I had on my first trip here with my uni friends one winter's day more years ago than I care to count.
Retrospectively, I find it a little strange to consider they agreed to such a rich dish, their diet at uni comprising that of most teenage girls; mostly coffee with skimmed milk and giant bags of Malteasers. Not to mention sharing with me is always fraught with danger.
If there's anything more huggable (no, of course not literally, think of the grease stains) than a wobbling array of crisp-skinned meats bobbing in a thick stew of creamy cannellini beans then please send it my way for a cuddle.
Even the gizzards were remarkably well-mannered; little avian nuggets that provided a welcome texture contrast to the unctuous pig bits and mealy beans. A green (and red) salad of bitter leaves cut a swath through the richness and lent a slightly more virtuous air to proceedings.
As if I was in need of anything more soporific after such a magisterial main, a bowl of clotted cream rice pudding crowned with a dollop of damson jam pushed me nicely into that post-dinner slump of sheer contentment.
I love nursery puddings and rice pud is right up there with the very best of them. And while normally I shy away from mixing it with fruit (after an incident at school camp as a child, enough said), the addition of sharp plum worked a treat. The glass of icy Muscat, recommended to go alongside, gilded the lily nicely.
In a surprise move, the Ewing eschewed the chocolate and hazelnut pie with cold cream (much to my chagrin) for the baked vanilla and poppy seed cheesecake with poached quince. The cheesecake struck the perfect balance between the lemony clagg (good) of the cream cheese and buttery crunch of the base which bought to mind my Nan's version - from the Hellmann's cookbook - which is very high praise indeed. Added quince is always a good thing and the suggestive slice of amber fruit added a perfumed sweetness.
A couple of espressos later and we were ready to face the long road home. Luckily even the cold December night couldn't dent the warm glow we had inside.