Mrs Kentishtowner has been thinking. ‘If human time is a succession of declining ages,’ she pondered, as we strolled up the Kentish Town Road, ‘then each age approximates less and less what the original life-force was all about.’
A siren flew past. ‘That’s it,’ she said, miming a throat cut. ‘Kaput. We’re living right at the end of something.’
‘Maybe each generation just continues to invent better things?’ I began. But she had pushed the door into the noisy bar of The Oxford, and the topic was clipped like a toenail.
Now let it be said that we enjoy a regular beverage here, or occasional midweek dinner, but with local haunts, memories can hold sway, and for longer then perhaps necessary Mrs Kentishtowner was haunted by a client lunch that went awry. In fact, said disaster was one of the first ever food reviews we ran and, despite better meals since, the feeling has proven hard to shake.
That pesky chef will, of course, be long departed, and as a rule we love the place. It’s central, laidback, buzzes with an eclectic crowd and in some ways epitomizes the spirit of Kentish Town, 2012.
And so we invited to put the food through the increasingly rigorous Kentishtowner tasting scheme. Lucky us.
We had a booth, from which we could observe the constant flow of punters taking their seats for dinner, or crossing the room to use the toilets (is this a design weakness?)
Standard gastropub dining room, but it works: wallpaper, chalked-up blackboard, chandeliers, granny lamps, candles. It’s nice, a bit glam even.
We kicked off the proceedings with smoked mackerel, beetroot, soft egg and horseradish: gorgeously constructed, but sailing a little too close to a Mrs Kentishtowner weekday signature dish for comfort.
Salmon, spinach and ginger in seaweed tempura was more exciting: earthy, fishy, fiery. A cute julienne salad. Some chilli dressing. Small but very more-ish.
Chilled Beaujolais in hand (there’s a good wine list, not to mention some fine vodka) we plumped for two contrasting mains to share. Red wine-braised rabbit with spring greens and dauphinoise (main pic) was, declared Mrs Kentishtowner, a ‘grower not a shower’: a bit too wintry for a warm spring evening, the flesh wasn’t as moist as its braised-ness might testify, yet it possessed a lightness which, together with the creamy potato and crunchy spring greens, made a satisfying mouthful.
The best thing we tried was a crisp-skinned sea bream, crab cake and roasted shallots, with a litle jug of heavenly herb veloute on the side. Once again, a strong, winning contrast of textures and flavours.
‘But they’re not shy are they about pricing, are they?’ said Mrs KT, licking her lips as she glanced at its £16.50 price tag.
Desserts hit a similar note. We lapped up a tangy lemon and berry posset, and a lighter-than-midsummer’s-eve lavender creme brûlée. And service from Lizzy was spot-on.
So the verdict? The vibe is relaxed but a bit special-occasion too, and the menu’s pleasantly foodie, with unusual touches and chefly ambition, in keeping with Kentish Town’s current gastro scene (a sausage-and-mash gaff this thankfully ain’t). It’s a local to be proud of.
Mrs Kentishtowner was silent as we walked home. ‘If human time really is a succession of declining ages,’ she said at last, ‘where does that leave The Oxford?’
Let me tell you one thing. She’s not half as clever as she thinks she is.
Words & pics: Stephen Emms