The griffin is a mythological creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. Griffins were known from classical antiquity for guarding treasure and priceless possessions – appropriate, I’d say, in the case of The Griffin Inn in Monmouth Street.
First opened in 1730, the inn’s (almost) 300-year pedigree carries a Grade II listing. Bought in 2018 by the St Austell Brewery, Cornwall’s leading independent family owned brewery, The Griffin Inn was renovated last autumn and joined 178 other south-west pubs and breweries in the group, including the Inn at Freshford with its gastropub fare and local ales; the Cross Guns at Avoncliff, a country pub on the canal towpath; and the Old Crown in Kelston with its hearty pub cooking on the edge of the Cotswold countryside. All these are now operated by the Griffin Inn’s tenant Jack Werner.
This is an upmarket, comfortable, atmospheric pub – classy and gently aspirational but still firmly down-to-earth – with reclaimed oak flooring, exposed stone walls, cosy seating, saffron glow paintwork and burnt umber leatherette upholstery.
On a Friday evening it was buzzing, reverberating with relaxed post-work conversations and waves of warm laughter washing around the bar, enjoying the selection of 20 handpicked ales and ciders.
In tune with The Griffin Inn’s sense of no-nonsense style, the menu offered wholesome flavours in simple dishes. This is a world away from pub grub, with choice dishes such as dressed crab on toast with lime mayonnaise, cured tofu and ceviche salad, Cornish mussels cooked in cider and leeks, Cape Malay spiced rice, portobello mushroom kievs and truffle fries. There were also a host of vegan and gluten-free options.
Settled on a table at the back away from the bar and in a soft, subdued light, we had a pre-starter of chargrilled focaccia and rosemary butter served with plump green Nocarella olives. Carbohydrate before a meal is a dangerous gambit so I cut my foccacia piece into elegant slivers and then ate it all anyway. For starters I decided on Caprese salad: bull’s heart tomato and mozzarella with basil leaves – delightfully cool, tangy and freshly textured – and for Rob it was the soup of the day, leek and broccoli soup in a country-style asymmetric bowl served with toasted sourdough.
For the main course, I had poached hake fillet, heirloom potatoes and sprouting broccoli with lemon butter sauce. The cubed heirloom potatoes were coyly buried underneath a gastronomic mountain of broccoli and fish, the potato a treasure trove of deliciousness uncovered by my investigative fork to blend with the clean fish and the citrus sauce. Rob went for the butter poached rump steak, collard greens, bone marrow sauce and fries. Meat on a plate par excellence, a bold, stalwart dish if ever there was one, with two beef marrow bones forming a Stonehenge sculpture, protecting their steak and gravy contents with the slim crispy chips as a delicate accompaniment in their own container. Bone marrow, incidentally, the soft fatty substance inside a bone, while having always been appreciated for its flavour and nutritional content, has upgraded its gastronomic profile in recent years, for its high in fat properties (69 per cent unsaturated) and protein.
Someone once told me that the classic steak dish is the one to assess in any restaurant as if they’ve got this right, they know what they are doing. It seems they do at The Griffin Inn.
Flavours of bramble, black cherry and baked plums in glasses of Pas d’Histoire Rouge supported our meal and, following the fruit theme, dessert brought blackcurrant sorbet for me – an uplifting, tongue-tingling chilled but explosive finale of black berries. Rob, taking the more robust route once again, had chocolate, almond and prune tart with ice cream; the verdict was ‘divine’.
We’ll be back for more of this Griffin’s treasure.
The Griffin inn is open Monday – Thursday 11.30am to late, Friday – Saturday 8am to late, and Sunday from 8am – 9pm. Prices: starters from £6; mains from £15; desserts from £7