North London Food & Culture

K-Curious? Read our Pocket Guide to NW5

Real ale, art, fashion - and a genuinely diverse community. On the eve of Soho House opening three restaurants on Highgate Road, we ponder why Kentish Town has suddenly "got it"

New things on the horizon? Pic: Stephen Emms
New things on the horizon? Pic: Stephen Emms

Bracing yourself for the onslaught of NW5 tourists about to descend tomorrow, when Soho House launch not one but three restaurants?

So are we. Well, fear not, Kentishtowners, as here’s your handy cut-out-and-keep guide to ping over to friends, family, and other non-KT types to fill them in on what we like to call the ‘manor.’

Or, maybe you’re K-curious and want to know more about the natives? Pull a hottie, even? Or – and I expect there’s a few out there – you’re a hack commissioned to review Chicken Shop and simply don’t know where to start?

Bluff your way through with our beginner’s guide:


1. The Home Of Real Ale
Was it the Southampton that done it? Opening in 2009 to national and international acclaim for its back to basics wood-panelled approach it quickly won over every pub-lover in London – and put a place called Gospel Oak on the map to boot. Now Kentish Town is home to some of the best boozers in London – the wonderful (and, yes, much longer established) Pineapple, new upstart Tapping The Admiral, always reliable Junction, Bull & Last, and Old Eagle to name a few. And the opening of Camden Brewery Bar on a cobbled backstreet this year has reinvented the real ale approach again, with its artisan streetfood stalls and ‘hipster’ crowd. Definitely one to take your Clapton chums to. Ahem.

2. Understated Food
‘It’s no surprise really that Soho House have opened three joints here’. At least that’s what you yawningly declare when friends express surprise at East Dulwich being overlooked. After all, award-winning Bull & Last (now considered one of the UK’s top gastropubs) is just up the road, The Vine is opposite (speak highly of their ciccetti), and other recommendations may include speakeasy Shebeen under all-day diner Kentish Canteen, The Lion & Unicorn with its leafy gardens, and the wonderful Colonel Fawcett, whose talented head chef Dorian Kirk is just 21. But it’s not just about gastropubs: NW5 boasts an enviable world food scene too – take your pick from Pakistani grill Lahore Masala House, the excellent Mumbai streetfood at Hazraj, the best kebabs in London at all-conquering Giles Coren-endorsed E.Mono, fine Ethiopian at Queen of Sheba, and excellent Japanese fare at Satuma. And frogmarch those who bleet about artisan coffee to Arancini Brothers or authentic Portuguese caff the Wine Cellar.

3. She Ain’t No Flirt
Noisy and urban, say our detractors. Exactly, we respond, barely stifling another yawn. What’s great about NW5 is that it doesn’t try too hard to be liked. Like the best places, Kentish Town is all about scratching beneath the surface. (Heck, that’s why we started The Kentishtowner in the first place.) There’s a certain identikit quality to so many parts of London, and Kentish Town is on the up in 2012 precisely because it defies any kind of easy categorisation. No, a glance at its high street is not an instant win, and its vibe is harder to detect than, say, crazy Camden, leafy Primrose Hill or quaint Hampstead. Yet stick with it, newbies. The main drag has dozens of interesting shops like Earth and Owl; and visit Map Studio Cafe, or the Torriano, or The Pineapple to see that it’s all about Off The Beaten Track.

4. North London’s Art Capital
‘You didn’t realise?’ You can shake your head in disbelief at this. For in the last five years NW5’s more industrial western district has developed with creative spaces and secret hangouts like the cocktail bar at Spring Studios (one of the most prestigious photographic studios in London), not to mention North London’s finest contemporary art gallery, the Zabludowicz Collection, which opened to acclaim in 2007 (above). Acclaimed photographer Rankin’s Annroy studios and exhibition space was another significant arrival in 2009. And don’t forget Flaxon Ptootch owner Michael Ptootch’s long-running gallery and brilliantly hedonistic launch parties.

5. The D-Word
It’s a cliche but in our case it’s true. NW5 is a genuinely diverse London neighbourhood, and has been for nearly two centuries (even back in the 1860s there were concerns about the rise of poverty versus the ‘need’ for more middle class terraces). The social mix has remained pretty much consistent for over a century. How many places can claim that? So you’ll find million pound villas and social housing, Hampstead Heath (always no more than a 15 min walk away) and industrial spaces. And what’s great about our postcode is that no one type of person will win, ever: location, architecture and geography will always ensure a mix of residents, from student housing to multicultural Queen’s Crescent. And now we have thousands of newly-arrived French folk to faire bouger les choses yet again. Mon dieu!

Phew. After all that we’re ready for a posh pizza after. Know anywhere good?

And if you want to find out more, then for goodness’ sake follow the hyperlinks and spend time on this site. It’s what we’re here for innit.

Words & Pics: Stephen Emms

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About Kentishtowner

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.