North London's Cultural Guide

Lion & Unicorn: Oh my!

Mrs Kentishtowner really should stop ordering steak: she's turning into her father, I moaned

Pleasant interior: The L&U
Pleasant interior: The L&U

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

11 thoughts on “Lion & Unicorn: Oh my!”

  1. Totally agree – we were in there last week and it was buzzing – felt as though it had settled into itself – nice staff, good food, good ale and good atmosphere – then the theatre crowd came down and it got even more buzzy!

  2. So I’m not imaginng it! Isn’t it unexpectedly lovely in there now? .I was in two nights ago and I swear the room was almost smiling at’s very, very warm and snug in there. When it first re-opened I thought it was claustrophobic and stilted but it seemed almost magical the other night, with the freezing ice outside and the full moon and the glowing colours and twinkly lights (or maybe they put something in my chips).
    The staff are as sweet and lovely on a packed Saturday night as a quiet Tuesday, very friendly fellow drinkers too. And dogs are welcome down the boozing end, very important consideration for some of us.
    Never thought I’d learn to love this new version of the place but it’s totally won me over. Lion and Unicorn, glowing bastion of twinkly inviting-ness, I salute you, but yes, please dispense with that ginormous wall cutlery pronto, it’s ridiculous.

  3. Suburban? I’m really having to restrain my guffaws at an almost Monoclesque stylism. This is Kentish Town. Everything need not be pared down, brick revealed or channeling shoreditch cum Noho to be good.

    Please don’t start to bring this sort of lens to things in NW5, it really doesn’t need it.

    Concentrate on the welcome, the food and the drink, not on the colour of the staff’s uniforms, please. I want NW5 to be a nice place to live, not full of ‘hipsters’ whatever the hell they are.

    Btw, I’ve enjoyed the food, welcome and booze in the L&U for a while, it really has given that little corner of NW5 a lift. And doesn’t smell, like the Oxford does.

  4. Fiona, when I first moved to KT, and was child free, I took it on myself to get round most of the boozers, and I did venture in here, and agree the non-shoreditch version of basic was very much en vogue.

    I do struggle to see how the Pineapple, say, is any less ‘suburban’ than the L&U. I for one like comfy seats and a bit of upholstery, if not quite to the extent that Annies takes it. Now that is a makeover out of Essex rather than the ‘burbs.

    Based on the rate that pubs are changing around KT I think we should slap a preservation order on O’Reilly’s lest we lose a last alcoholic link to an earthier NW5!

  5. And the debate rages over on Twitter: James Beevers (@JB_1) reckons the Lion’s interior is a ‘bit identikit’; whilst @FKDoyle loved the food and play he saw. Meanwhile @Whiskey_Mick lives ‘two streets down and hasn’t been since the refurb, ‘but will rectify that in the light of youyr review’….Keep ’em coming.

  6. I just googled ‘monoclesque stylism’ and funnily enough, ‘Kentishtowner’ was my answer. (I also think that must be the first time the old Lion and Unicorn and the words ‘en vogue’ have ever been used in the same sentence). But yes Jen, I think to get the best out of the old-school L and U, you had to keep venturing in, in order for the epic and wondrous madness of the place to reveal itself. And, in the absence of furnishings, comfort or dressiness of any kind (though there were some pretty massive curtains, in gloom-purple, if I remember correctly), this wondrousness came, obviously, from the strange and lovely people drinking in there, as it does in any good pub. I guess the decor of some places, according to personal preference, just makes it easier to appreciate the people.
    Anyway, the pub has relaunched itself as a foodie enterprise, so however much you and I liked the old one, it’s asking to be judged on what it’s now providing, which seems to be very nice food, on top of a cheery atmosphere.
    Now, as for O’Reilly’s, don’t get me started.

  7. I just made the stylism statement up. I like the Japanese definition. To be honest the clothes do maketh the man, and the L&U’s decor is identikit, but this is outweighed so far by the food, atmosphere and drink.

    I often think of O’Reilly’s as being a service to the community. It’s the only place I feel intimidated walking past sometimes. Now a Giles Coren review of that place I’d like to read.

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.