We are now officially obsessed with The Fields Beneath. From the moment we heard that owners Gavin and Sibylle were naming their cafe after local historian Gillian Tindall’s seminal (and much-thumbed) 1977 book, we had high hopes. Fuelled, in fact, by years of walking past Kentish Town West station daily and thinking how nice it’d be to see a cafe open in the vacant shop space.
Yet after all that anticipation, we were a little slow off the mark with the place. Once inside, it was instant aesthetic love, with its appealing textural mix of bare brick, Moroccan tiling, wood floors, and carefully framed typography maps. But the odd snatched (impressive) coffee aside, we had, until last week, yet to sample the ravishing display of food on offer.
Co-owner Gavin sat us down on a rainy lunchtime and explained that the emphasis is on small producers, and locally or London-sourced goods. First up, soup, made and delivered by a guy called John (£3.50 with bread): the first, beetroot and apple, was a rich, seasonal balance of earth and fruit; the second, a brilliantly orange spicy carrot, yielded warming notes of ginger and lime and was the clear winner.
Sandwiches hover between £4 and £5: on our visit, the only one remaining (they’d had a busy lunch hour) was ham and cheese, served in a brown paper bag, its intensely mature cheddar elevating it way above the usual fare.
Best of all was the ‘beef donut’ (£4). All we say is, if you’re a meat lover – the kind of person who’ll queue for Chicken Shop, or rave about Streetfeast or Farmer Tom’s – this should be a pilgrimage. It’s a hearty 100g shin beef donut made by a Chiswick-based bloke called Pip, who delivers daily by bike. And this is the only place in north London he sells to. What surprised us is the juxtaposition of sweet and savoury: a brioche-like ‘dough’ filled with an intense savoury beef, smoked in chicory wood and then slow cooked in tomatoes and carrots for six hours. It could be our latest guilty pleasure. Yikes.
For the sweet-toothed, or if you want a bit of dessert, take your pick: lemon tarts, creme brulee, ‘ugly’ tarts (so-called because they have cracked), almond croissants (with centres oozing generous amounts of goo), plus brownies, banana loaf and florentines all made by Gavin’s mum (Prices around £2-3). A Hackney girl called Lillie makes jams with flavours like quince and rose which are also fillings for normal doughnuts too, although they weren’t available when we swung by.
Finally, as you’d expect from the former owner of coffee stall Sandwich & Spoon, on the bridge over to Primrose Hill, the Square Mile beans are ace. We also loved the passion of Aviv, a trainee onsite coffee barista who exudes a passion that’s infectious. We tried a mellow Brazilian filter coffee, as well as a more punchy, lightly toffee-tinged espresso made from a 75% Kaffa Forest, Ethiopian, 25% Fina Los Vaqueritos blend. Gavin was quick to explain that the beans change every week, too. So it’s always going to be a (pleasant) surprise. Nice to see a real mix of customers too.In the interest of journalistic balance, some negatives? There’s no toilet. This is fair enough as the space is tiny but it makes it not such a good place to linger (maybe Jasper would be kind enough to share the Camden Brewery one)? And the sharing table is very small, so it may not be the place for a meeting or private conflab (although we have to say we had befriended everyone by the time we left). It was also a shame they’d run out of the cute bacon and egg tartlets, made ‘hyperlocally’ by John from Harmood Street, on our two recent visits, as we’d been eyeing them up for a while. But, in their favour, it means we’ll be back. Yup, as you can tell, we’re struggling to find fault here.
So has the cafe’s honorary patron Gillian Tindall swung by yet? Well, explained Gavin, she eventually gave the shop name her blessing (yay!), but it was only when Sibylle ran into her in the high street that she agreed to visit.
And what did the great historian order? A latte. Let’s hope next time she brings the laptop and makes it her new regular.
Words and some pics: Stephen Emms
Photos: Sibylle Meyfret