Just over from Brecknock, Kentish Town’s eastern tollgate, is North Road, which connects the upper reaches of York Way with the Cally. And now that King’s Cross is so swanky, it must be one of central-ish London’s last industrial outposts: think railway lines, neverending blocks of unfinished flats, cranes hovering, bleak stretches without a single shop along them.
Half the estate being rebuilt lines Caledonian Park, the former cattle market opened in 1855 as an addition to the meat market at Smithfield. It’s still a rather romantic spot, especially on a breezy morning, with its striking Victorian clocktower, and air of faded grandeur.
On North Road’s lower slopes is the Busworks building, a vast quarter mile former Victorian factory (now mixed use offices) which is also home to the long-running Pleasance Theatre. And across a pleasant cobbled courtyard, vibrant in the summer months, is a hangar-like pub with a chequered history, the Sir George Shillibeer. For those unfamiliar with London’s transport history, the knighted one ‘invented’ the omnibus, and the pub was the original omnibus depot. So lots of history going on to contemplate over your pint of fashionable Brooklyn lager, right?
Now, a disclaimer: it’s down the road from our office so we have been known to slope off there with alarming regularity. But we’ve had very mixed experiences with the food and smiley manager Ray’s the first to admit they’ve had problems with finding a decent chef. It’s only been in recent weeks that the food seems to be on track, with Mongolian head Chef Dul Dorjgotov (ex Narrowboat) at the helm. Ray was keen to get our thoughts on the new menu and so we obliged.
It’s a boat-like interior, its huge ground floor scattered with dark mahogany tables, wonky free-standing granny lights; there’s a mezzanine with ‘snugs’ and board games, and also a quite elegant restaurant area. Service from the young team is generally pretty good.
A starter of mackerel and orange salad was spot-on, soft and fleshy, although a garnish of leaves was a bit tired. Duck and port pate needed seasoning, but subsequently grew richly seasonal. On our visits this year we’ve come to realise that this is a place to go for the specials, and its weekday crowd of office workers all ordering from the blackboard is testament to this. A fish pie (£9) was creamily more-ish, served with al dente courgettes and cauliflower.
But it was the pulled pork bap, its meat deliciously tender and packed with flavour, served with skinny chips and salad, that was the winner. At just £6, this seemed excellent value, and cheaper than many streetfood vans.
The wine list is short and quite reasonable too. A Beaujolais Village was only £14 a bottle; whilst a decent Argentinian Malbec was £17. More craft beers and real ale than might be expected, too. And cocktails, if you’re really going for it.
Ray says they’re reducing the offering to focus on a handful of quality dishes in the new year. We think this makes sense; but if you do find yourself in the wastelands of this corner of N7 before then, or are visiting the adjoining Pleasance Theatre (well worth a trip itself), Shillibeer’s is a reliable enough pitstop. And, if you come with no expectations, you might even be pleasantly surprised.
Words & Pics: Stephen Emms