Nearly six years ago, I wrote about a just-open French cafe off Holloway Road. Le Peche Mignon occupies an unassuming corner on Highbury Crescent, with locals clustering round its sharing table sipping Monmouth coffee, reading the paper. At least once a week, for several years, I strolled over Highbury Fields from my office, Jack Russell in tow, for a pricey but quite addictive lunch. (Pepper was particularly good at barking as I waited in line, too).
Fast forward to 2012 and just off the other side of Holloway Road, near cosy newfangled boozer The Lamb, all day restaurant Assiette Anglaise has taken a spot previously occupied by upscale gaff Morgon M. Owner Mairead invited us down to try the food – and it was only then that she explained she and her husband Ludo own Le Peche Mignon too. A nice coincidence.
Like its deli counterpart, Assiette is fairly small, and feels neighbourhood in an Islingtonian way, its central marble bar adding character to the single room, caged wicker lighting throwing shadows onto the walls. Candles flicker too, although – you know us – it could even be a little darker (perhaps the grande dames of Barnsbury would object).
Chef Elton Inglis (Racine) is in the kitchen, the idea being an all day French brasserie: coffee and breakfast for commuters and business types, a cheap set lunch and early bird dinner (£12 two courses), and the full a la carte affair too, with mains around £16, reasonably-priced for this level of cooking.
We kicked back with a sprizzato, a firework of zingy aperol and cava. From the short list of starters we shared a signature Assiette of charcuterie, including Noir de Bigorre and Bayonne ham, salami, chicken liver parfait and a creamy bagna cauda (the garlicky anchovy dip perfect to dunk a heritage carrot or stick of fennel into). Another starter, a special, of gnocchi with tomato and mussels, was as delicate and more-ish as dim sum.
Mains shone with bursts of seasonal colour: salty-skinned sea bass, carefully balanced with vanilla butter, came with a Hallowe’enish combo of trompette and pumpkin puree. Meanwhile the ubiquitous onglet, that economical cut so tricky to serve correctly, was tender, though not quite as impressive as one we tasted at Kentish Canteen a week earlier (a real surprise). Yet its accompanying sweet shallots, Swiss chard and bone marrow packed depth of flavour and texture, and a side of dauphinois was joyously light (does that make it healthier?)
We rarely decline a dessert but, polishing off a well-priced bottle of Pinot Noir (£22), we were unusually sated, settling instead for espresso and brandy before winging it to the latest launch at Flaxon Ptootch. Oh and incidentally, wine also comes in the half carafe, and there are beers from local faves Camden Brewery too (that Jasper must be making a killing).
Finally, it’s worth adding that Mairead wanders tables chatting away to guests, making for a pleasant atmosphere, so important in a neighbourhood, rather than destination, joint. In fact, by the end of the meal we had tipsily bonded with her over a shared love of tapas bars. Our joint favourite? Why Barrafina, of course, #1 in our Top 5 last week – and, she told us, where they celebrated after that first tiny review I wrote for Le Peche Mignon, all those years ago.
Words: Stephen Emms