OK, so Mrs Kentishtowner finally relented. And not just relented, but positively dragged us down there. Why? Because People Whose Opinions She Trusted have, recently, been raving about the Lion & Unicorn.
‘They’ve removed the suburban curtains and most of those unsightly high tables and chairs,’ she said, with an approving nod, as we stepped out of the cold into the lively bar, and ordered a Director’s ale.
We were seated within view of a roaring fire in the dining room (very tastefully furnished other than an outsize fork and spoon), a brace of efficient waitresses circling us. The other tables were occupied by a lively Kentish Town mix of thirtysomething couples, office workers and the odd hipster thrown in for good measure (one, it must be noted, bore a moustache so splendid it could almost solve a 1920’s murder mystery itself).
The food was a surprise. Mostly because the last two visits to Geronimo’s nearby sister pub, the Lord Palmerston in Dartmouth Park, have been rather disappointing. But here, the produce was seasonal and intriguing: a delicious starter of poached duck egg, chicory and chestnut (left, £6) was beautiful to gaze at, especially after puncturing the yolk. Pig’s head terrine with gherkin (£7) wasn’t bad either, if a little fridge-cold.
Mrs Kentishtowner really should stop ordering steak: she’s turning into her father, I moaned, but not before she’d distracted me and selected the grilled butler (yes, that’s a cut) with triple cooked chips (a hefty £13). It was tender and perfectly rare, but the confit duck leg with celeriac gratin, button onion and bacon (right) was a superior match of flavours – and met with satisfying hisses of envy from across the table.
So the Lion & Unicorn was tasty, busy, buzzy. It doesn’t reach the culinary heights of the or The Vine, both of which are serving some fantastic food at the moment (head straight to the latter for a divine oxtail stew, with kale and gnocchi); but it’s homely without feeling frumpy, and possesses an entirely different feel from its culinary match, the arguably more glam Oxford.
In our 2011 Best Evening Meal Awards, the Lion scraped just a couple of votes – so, if you’ve been sceptical, we reckon a visit is in order. And it’s a pleasant location, even more so in summer perhaps, with its Mediterranean-style terrace and garden.
Lion & Unicorn, 42-44 Gaisford Street NW5. Two courses with wine (we had a decent Tempranillo) around £55. Kentishtowner Rating: 8/10
Words & pictures: Stephen Emms