We’ve all watched Meribel Brasserie lurk under scaffolding, its billboard not hinting at much, its opening delayed. Some of us who are a bit long in the tooth (arise, Mrs Kentishtowner!) may even recall that the venue has been pretty much doomed since it was shut down in the late 90s.
Times change. But Meribel finally opened around the same time as the Colonel Fawcett, so whilst we kept promising to try it, one look at the conservative menu would make us plump for the Fawcett instead.
Invited the other week, however, we finally stepped inside, away from the hellish building work going on all around the whole godforsaken corner.
The interior – a sort of Alpine take on urban Camden – makes good use of its railway arch location. There’s an eye-catching ceiling, made of hand-printed and vintage wallpaper, rough-luxe decor and obligatory views over the open kitchen. A cute daytime deli and terrace overlooks unlovely Camden Road, but we kinda like the juxtaposition. Serenity in the face of noise and all that.
Chef Albert Pronin is (apparently) cooking traditional French fare ‘with a Mediterranean twist’. Starters of beef carpaccio with parmesan, and cognac and port chicken liver parfait (below) were packed with flavour, the latter richly savoury with bacony overtones.
As is the zeitgeist, the menu’s designed for the carnivore (at least they didn’t call it Meat At Camden Road). A main of lamb chops (below) with herb and garlic red wine jus was juicily-pink, but as a dish a tad underwhelming, its accompanying dauphinoise too mild (we couldn’t taste enough calories).
Meanwhile a steak ordered rare arrived medium, but was immediately whisked away and replaced with the most beautifully red piece of 400g sirloin.
In fact, it was so tender and flavoursome I was trying to remember where, in the manor, I’d had a better one (The Bull & Last?) Skinny fries carried just a hint of vanilla, whilst an unusual (but delicious) bearnaise was chunky with shallots and tarragon. A quaffable bottle of French Pinot Noir was around £20.
But what makes the Meribel Brasserie special is the newly-arrived maitre d’ Andrew Vales (yes, it really is that kind of place – in Camden!) Andrew has been hired from Fortnum and Mason’s and it shows: he’s courteous, elegant, non-intrusive, and lends the joint a splendid touch of The Wolseleys. This approach seems to be working: the place was packed by 8pm. Maybe it could even kickstart a new trend in NW1/5.
‘The plan is for three more restaurants – and a hotel,’ Andrew confided to us, over expressos and slivers of cake, at the end of the meal. Ambitious perhaps, but good luck to them (they own Pacha, and The Driver in King’s Cross, too). And we heartily approve of the renaissance of the ongoing Camden Road area: it’s quite definitely geared towards locals – not tourists.
Kentishtowner Rating: 8/10.
Three courses and a bottle of wine is around £80, but you may find a deal online. 45 Camden Road NW1.
Words & Pictures: Stephen Emms