I don't know if you've tried to find a 'proper' pub around the West End lately, but it's becoming difficult. While the busier roads are awash with chain wine bars, the back streets are scattered with a few nice but grossly popular pubs - the kind of places where you have to take a running start and hurl yourself headlong through a sea of bodies towards the bar, knowing full-well that you're likely to return back to the safety of your table (or the street) without a full-pint.
Not so at historic tavern The Running Horse, just a frisbeed beermat's distance away from Bond Street and its eponymous station. A Davies Street tavern since 1738, the old pub's been revamped and refurnished, transformed into a tucked-away delight for people who like to stuff their faces with great food and get gently battered on fine ales.
It's location, at the moment, is somewhat obscured by the construction of the Crossrail but it's not too disruptive: it's actually quite nice to look out at hard-workers working hard while you sink a pint in the warm confines of the cosy bar area, with plentiful seating and a proximity to the bar which even the most sozzled of blokes could traverse. The Running Horse's interior is inspired by English photographer Eadweard Muybridge - a man known almost as much for his tremendous beard and unnecessarily over-spelt name as his knack for capturing Britishness defined by a country's love of betting on the ponies.
Remembering that the pub is a place of class and quality, the hand-selected beers and ales line the bar on draught, and might airily dissuade your common-or-garden lush, but fret not: friendly bar-staff - among those, on my visit, co-owner and ex-Harvey Knicks head-bartender Dominic Jacobs - are quick to guide your eyes towards what you might best like, if prompted.
Jacobs certainly knows his alcohol, creating a drinks menu that is simple, accessible and delicious. My Marmalade Mule (made from fresh lime, bitters, ginger and Chase Marmalade Vodka - the family brand of other co-owner James Chase) made me rue work the next morning and had my arm subconsciously raising for another. My friend Jen was braver: picking a Beetroot Lemon Balm Sours, featuring ingredients I initially balked at (Beetroot! Egg whites!) but turned out to be the best of the bunch. The beers included Windsor & Eton Republika (craft, Czech and smooth on the palate) and Kernal Pale (brewed in Bermondsey with a unique hop blend that's different on every shipment) which were both excellent.
No fancy pub worth its license would be seen dead without offering up a bit of grub, these days, and that's where The Running Horse really comes into its own. We went for the safe bet of ordering one of the massive platters because, we were assured, they covered everything and were massive. We had not been lead wrong: a selection of crab-fritters (I resisted temptation to smash several into my mouth at once) and seasonal pickles mixed with venison scotch-eggs (seriously) and, best of all, wild boar sausages in cider. The scotch eggs were so good I gladly told Jen that if she reached for another I would impale her hand with my fork and eat it in front of her - she accepted this. The wild boar sausages, genuinely, shut me up for several moments - given the chance I would've gladly had a larger portion (a bathtub full, say) and still asked for more. They were tender and the taste was strong but not overpowering, the ace cider they resided in threatening to gild an already brilliantly delicious sausage.
For mains I picked the flame-grilled rump skirt (because I didn't know what it was but it came with cheesy chips) and lucked out completely. Turns out that the rump skirt is a cut so nice that a lot of butchers don't even give it up, claiming ignorance, like a meat omertà. Apparently prized for its flavour, I at first thought I'd just ordered a particularly tasty-looking spare-rib before cutting into the succulent meat, sampling one of the best tasting main courses I'd had in months. The fat was delicious and the meat was tender, the flame-grill perfect on a cut of meat so good that I wanted to take it home and sleep with it. Oh yeah, and those cheesy chips were right nice, too.
What with the burger market being about as competitive as two pirates fighting it out over the hottest sailor-boy in the port, I literally forced my friend to try The Running Horse's chopped burger and it turns out that they do a mean old line in those too. Chef Andrew Justice (who sounds like he belongs in a comic book strangling Gotham mobsters) allows his secret recipe to season the patty, a mixture of fine and course cuts of rump and rump skirt, which is then 'moulded into shape'. The shape of a burger, obviously. One sneaky bite when its orderer wasn't looking wasn't nearly enough - I was one Marmalade Mule away from snatching it away completely, ready to double-fist my rump skirt with a rump-skirt burger.
With its friendly atmosphere, ultra-desirable location and menu of supreme British classics, I'd give anyone in the West End a firm recommendation to visit The Running Horse - especially in the run up to Christmas. After all, what says Britain more than sitting in a pub at winter eating amazing meat and drinking beer?