1. Bull & Last
2. Made In Camden
3. Queen Of Sheba
And now for that most enjoyable part of the day: dinner. Votes here naturally stretched further afield, with love shown for modern British bistro Market on Parkway, Kentish Canteen, the Horseshoe (the people behind Camden Town Brewery no less) and the reinvented (and excellent) Old White Bear, both in Hampstead. Even Gilgamesh netted a rogue vote (thanks Sarah Harding! We jest.)
We hoped hoary old Sicilian joint Pane Vino might have stood a chance but, alas, it only got one vote, for its ‘pricey but perfect pumpkin purée.’ Perhaps it’s time to re-think the interior & ambience (dim lighting always work for us), as the food is delicious and still much-raved about in foodie circles.
Elsewhere, there was support for Tufnell Park’s del Parc (still on our hitlist – anyone want to review it in the comments below?), as well as creaking old Bintang (best for veggie offerings), Guanabana, and of course, reliable gastropubs The Oxford and Junction. The Lion & Unicorn should really have done better, but it too got just one vote. We wonder why? (We admit we still haven’t eaten there either so feel free to enlighten us.)
We were, however, delighted that Ethiopian mainstay Queen of Sheba took 3rd place. It typifies Kentish Town’s hidden international culinary gems and is on a row of under-rated intimate restaurants (including Japanese diner Satuma, and Delicious, for ‘top pizza and good old-fashioned Italian bonkersness’, says @JB-1).
Like those, QoS is authentically good, with charming service and dishes whose flavours linger: try the Doro & Gomen (chicken, spinach, garlic, jalapeno) or the Yebeg Alich a We’t (lamb in butter, onion and turmeric, both around £10), all served on injera, the staple sponge-like bread.
But we are supremely lucky to have two of the capital’s finest restaurants on our doorstep. Made in Camden has really found its feet in the last 12 months and is now a delight – worth crossing London for, so if you’re local there’s no excuse.
Sensational sharing plates inspired by Barrafina and other Soho greats are executed with flair: ‘sticky’ pork belly with papaya, mango and cashew nut; seabass, dripping in sambuca butter, a mouthwatering version of chicken Romesco (with black vinegar and a carrot and miso puree), and ox cheek with white polenta, apple and sour cherry (all around £7-9). Throw in a casual dining atmosphere and stylish, dark-lit interior and it’s a must-visit.
The Bull & Last is similar in its experimental approach to cooking, although with more emphasis on nose-to-tail cuts. The formula is deceptively simple, its short menu and rowdy pub atmosphere the backdrop to sensational cooking. The most melt-in-the-mouth rare steak we’ve tasted all year was enjoyed here (from Dedham Vale, around £23), and on a recent visit Mrs Kentishtowner simply raved about a sublime main of braised pig cheeks with boudin noir, choucroute and cider prunes (around £18). Yet pretentious it ain’t. A deserved winner.
And so ends our 9 day countdown, and in fact that’s it from us for 2011. We’ll be back in Jan with some exciting news about our very first print edition.
Happy Christmas Kentishtowners. And don’t forget to add your thoughts as usual below.
Words & Pictures: Stephen Emms
Am I alone in being underwhelmed with the Bull & Last? I have eaten there quite a few times over the last year, as a result of innumerable second chances and being invited by others. Whilst it's good, indeed sometimes very good pub food, that's about it, both upstairs in the evening or downstairs in daytime. If we're casting the net as wide as Parkway in Camden or Hampstead, there are a few places that easily beat the B&L hands down (Odette's in Primmy Hill, L'Absinthe, York and Albany, St. Johns in Archway - I could go on).
Closer to home, I've found the food served in The Vine of a much higher calibre than the B&L, though maybe this has arrived too late in the year for your other readers to get to it.
Can't disagree with Made in Camden and the QoS, both great places to eat. Love delicious too.
Whilst it won't win any prizes for it's decor, Eat Zone at the bottom of Fortess road has great malay dishes at very reasonable prices. Personal favourites are the dumpling noodle soup and Nasi lemak. Their freshly mixed juices are great too.
All good stuff, but surely a yellow card for recommending the Old White Bear. Of all the rapacious acts of brutal smash and grab property development in North West London, the violence that these chancers did to the last great pub in Hampstead remains distinct. Shame on them frankly. I agree with Fancyapint's assessment: 'Every inch of charm has been entirely eviscerated'.
A mini tragedy in its own forlorn way.
Well OK, I see your point. It would be rude of me to come onto your lovely website and start throwing around dogmatic opinions so I am happy to defer to your view. But don't you think it is all a bit, well, ... identikit? Just go the Wells Tavern two minutes away for more of the same. And given who the developers of the pub are the idea of them as 'independent' is moot at best. Still, there it is. The death of a pub can be a powerful sad moment -- especially when it is such a brutal death as the Olde White Bear suffered -- so maybe it is something of an open wound still. I used to live opposite the Olde White Bear, now I live just down from the Pineapple. I hope I have better luck with my new local.
We think that any decent pub that manages to survive independently - however which way - without being turned into flats is A Good Thing. We're fortunate that so many continue to thrive in our broader area (and we have always championed the boozer, see Thursday's post).
This gong was about food, however, and the culinary offerings at the new Old White Bear are far superior to its previous incarnation. The interior has been stylishly updated (at least, according to Mrs Kentishtowner), although it was admittedly perhaps more atmospheric before. And you still have the Duke of Hamilton only a few steps away, a proper boozer that has retained its old-school charm. There's room for both.
Well all we'd say is that you're much better off in Kentish Town than Hampstead anyway! Far nicer folk...and so much more going on. The Pineapple is safe - we reckon.