An Early Look at Againn

An upscale pub brings all things British (plus 130 kinds of Scotch!) to DC's Penn Quarter. Check out our photo slideshow and the menus.

For all their literary, musical, and theatrical achievements, Britons haven’t traditionally been known for their flair in the kitchen. Fish and chips can be synonymous with crude frying, and mushy peas taste like, well, mush. But thanks to Michelin-starred English chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay—and locals such as Jamie Leeds of CommonWealth—UK cuisine has become de rigueur.

In keeping with this trend is Againn, a British-inspired gastropub that opened last week on the fringes of DC’s Penn Quarter. Contrary to spell check, the oddly named location isn’t a typo—it loosely translates as “are you going?,” “with us,” or “at us,” depending on your Gaelic dictionary.

It’s the first solo venture from Mark Weiss, who opened more than 75 restaurants around the world as the former vice president of operations at the Ritz-Carlton. After a year of planning and construction, Weiss has transformed an abandoned space on the ground floor of the Tishman Speyer building into a mod take on the scruffy pubs that he was attracted to while living in New Zealand and London.

Patrons get their first sense of Weiss’s vision when they enter Againn’s foyer, where nine hand-carved fox heads valued at more than $10,000 greet guests. Inside, a forest of dark pine covers the dining room’s booths and 15-tap bar, while Mexican tile runs up the wall toward a leather-paneled ceiling. Many of the restaurant’s 150 wine labels rest in its rear glass cellar, but Againn’s most prized libations—its 130 varieties of Scotch—are displayed in a series of backlit lockers that resemble trophy cases.

Weiss has charged Wesley Morton—formerly the executive chef at Houston’s *17 restaurant—with spiffing up traditional boozy British recipes. Cornish fish soup gets a dash of saffron, the shepherd’s pie is served on a slab of bamboo, and the roast pork with cracklings is drizzled with apple sauce. The menu also features a healthy amount of slangy Scottish fare, such as bashed neeps (mashed turnips and potatoes that traditionally accompany haggis), spotted dick (a steamed pudding with dried fruits), and cock-a-leekie (a leek-and-chicken soup). If you don’t have the stomach for fish and chips, bangers and mash, or Tamworth pork belly, choose something from the gazebo-like marble raw bar holding oysters, prawns, and salmon.

“I’ve always been attracted to comfort food,” Weiss says. “This is very approachable family-style dining—the kind of place where people can come enjoy themselves everyday.”

Yet, if early indications hold true, those planning on coming back everyday might want to call ahead: Againn had more than 180 dinner customers on its opening night.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

>> Check out photos of Againn in our photo slideshow.