Cuisine From Across the Pond
CommonWealth, the buzzed-about Columbia Heights "gastropub," opened last week to a packed dining room and patio. The curiosity makes sense. After all, isn't British food supposed to be bad? Could chef Jamie Leeds really make it good?
Fritz and I were among the hundreds of Washingtonians who checked out the new restaurant last week. Note that I said restaurant. The space boasts a large bar and few bar tables for checkers- and chess-playing, but the focus here is clearly on the dining room. Beers can be ordered in English and U.S. pint sizes, and though the cask-conditioned ales aren't available yet (licensing delay), I'm told they'll be up and running next week. The wine list includes a hefty selection of sparklings, which was a nice surprise.
As far as food goes, CommonWealth provides precisely what it set out to: British comfort-food staples that are noticeably better than your average pub fare. Starters include plates of mostly-local cheeses and drapes of house-cured charcuterie. On the "Snack" (or appetizer) menu, the crab on toast dish was okay -- pretty much just how it sounds, enlivened slightly by peas and cauliflower. Scotch Eggs, on the other hand, were the highlight of our pre-meal. Artfully arranged on a wire tree, two hard-boiled eggs had been halved, wrapped in sausage, breaded in panko and flash fried and served with a trio of dipping sauces.
On the entree side, fish and chips were lightly battered and fried -- tasty without giving you the rock-in-the-stomach feeling you might get after a late night out in London. A caramelized-onion gravy added a delicious sweetness to bangers and mash, a traditional British entree of sausage and mashed potatoes. The most surprising item we sampled was an Earl Grey semifreddo, and while the British tea isn't known as a dessert drink, its characteristic flavor lended itself well to a creamy dessert.
Bar-menu prices? Not exactly ... unless you happen to be flush in pounds. Entrees here are $13-$19. Sides or "Trimmings" like Yorkshire pudding or green bean casserole are an additional $5, and while they looked tasty, you don't need to order them to get a full meal like you might at other restaurants. An entree platter is filling as it stands.
When I spoke to Leeds about this new venture last month, she seemed psyched about the restaurant being a gathering place for the neighborhood, as she herself lives nearby. Only time will tell if the restaurant becomes a neighborhood hangout or a place like the nearby Target, where people Metro in and then Metro out.
Have you been to CommonWealth? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
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