Mrs Kentishtowner wishes to let you in on a little secret. She wasn’t always Mrs Kentishtowner, she’d like to point out! She wasn’t always a wife, an executive, a mother! (And just to clarify: she wasn’t involved in #hackgate, either.)
But what she’d really like to confess today is that she has history with The Vine, the elegant Edwardian pub on Highgate Road that, a couple of years back, wobbled helpless in the headlights of the revamped Bull & Last, and then was flattened entirely by a teensy-tiny juggernaut named Southampton.
And now it’s back. But before we get onto that, indulge her a bit, yeah? Allow her to glaze over as she recalls rose-tinted dates within the glass panes of its conservatory; lost afternoons slumped by the fire with a beau. (It goes without saying that the gentlemen in question were neither as handsome nor as witty as her current amour.)
And so, after months during which the pub has lain, pupa-like, sheathed in scaffolding, she was in there like the proverbial upon its recent reopening – rooting around every nook and cranny, gliding a finger over the surfaces, standing, proprietorially, on the new decked alfresco terrace; disappearing up the staircase of her memories.
Yet the conservatory, witness to so much youthful ardour, was nowhere to be seen. ‘They’ve turned it into a restaurant!’ she shrieked. ‘A restaurant!’
It seemed futile to suggest that that may have been the driving force behind the pub’s transformation. And so, becalmed by a large G & T (which, it must be said, took three attempts to get right) we considered the formula: take one part Stag, another the aforementioned Bull & Last, and third, Real Pubs’ own nearby teen-fave The Oxford (leather booths, chandeliers, and wooden tables). And what do you get? “The Titanic,” she said, still not warming to it, “this place is just too goddamn vast.”
Vast or not, ultimately, we’re pleased to say, it’s all about the food. With head chef Nicky Lowe at the helm (who previously headed up Ramsay pub The Narrow) The Vine is fashionably channelling the likes of Polpo et al with cicchetti (tiny tasting snacks) and sharing plates, as well as full mains to please the more conservative members of NW5’s primmest fringes.
From the cicchetti (£3-5), we tried pepperonata with anchovies and broad beans, pecorino and mint; from the sharing plates (£6-8), smoked pig cheeks with minestrone vegetables, warm salt cod with spinach and tomato, baby leeks with parma ham, boiled egg, parmesan crisp – and the winner, a most delicately soused mackerel with fennel. As both cicchetti and sharing plates arrived at once, rather than over two courses, the charming waitress comped our bottle of vino: a nice touch.
Yet the reborn pub seemed to cast a shadow over Mrs Kentishtowner’s usually exhuberant approaching to dining. Perhaps she was considering the fate of another redhead, Rebekah Brooks. Perhaps she was chomping in silent rumination of the lover(s) that got away. Or perhaps, this damp, grey summer is evoking – what? – a sense of nihilism? The chill of transience? A youth lost forever?
The Vine: 86 Highgate Road, NW5