North London's Cultural Guide

Review: Leyas, Camden High Street

Well done them for being next to Pret - and three times as busy. We check out a much-loved Mornington Crescent coffee bar and deli

Delectable: the savoury tart. Photos by Stephen Emms
Delectable: the savoury tart. Photos by Stephen Emms

So we were down in Mornington Crescent shooting pics for last week’s old cigarette factory feature. Leyas was somewhere we’d been meaning to try for ages, having clocked its pleasant exterior from the bus on many an occasion.

It’s still surprising what an earthy, down-trodden feel lower Camden High Street has, but take a closer look, and there’s more than the odd gem: another branch of hip Kentish Town salon Oskar Pink has just opened, and fine Argentinian steakhouse La Patagonia is worth a visit, as are long-standing pizza joint Chicco’s, owned by E.Mono tycoon Mike, and the Wheelbarrow. Moreover, I was pleased to see Nicholas vintage cameras still trading – where, many years ago, I bought my first SLR.

Stepping inside, Leyas is actually quirkier than it appears. A small ground floor seating area leads up to a counter made from fruit crates; down rickety steps is an Amsterdam-style lounge, all exposed brick work and mismatched vintage furniture. The place was full of meedja types chatting and sipping, or alone with their devices.

Quirkier than it looks from the street.
Quirkier than it looks from the street.
The food looks gorgeous. A glass display houses the salad options, whilst the counter heaves with typically colourful artisan fare, from quiche to brownies. It has to be said, however, that both our mains were a little too fridge cold, especially Tom’s salad-in-a-box of mozzarella, pesto, rocket, olives and couscous, which meant the cheese couldn’t deliver on flavour as it should.


My more enticing option (main pic) was one of several on offer, a savoury tart with caramelized red onions, goats cheese and sweet potato. Delicious, sticky-sweet, and packed with deep wintry goodness: we decided we’d return for that alone. But even so, its accompanying salad could have been a little more, um, modern – sliced half tomatoes and rather uninspiring leaves don’t quite cut it. The freshly-squeezed orange juice was zingy, though.

Yet this is a fun place simply to hang out and people-watch; a buzzy, diverse stretch of high street, especially sitting at the window. And best of all, the coffee is fantastic, their standard Union Revelation espresso blend (is everyone using this now?) exuding deep notes of caramel with a satisfying finish that worked better in our macchiato than americano. And well done them for being next to Pret, and three times as busy. As regular readers will remember, it was a similar story for Archway’s Bread & Bean.

Free weekend? We say go check out the mighty DRAF gallery, whose new exhibition launched last week, and head to Leyas for refuelling after.

20 Camden High Street. Kentishtowner Rating 7/10. Mains about a fiver with salad. The amazing savoury tart is £2.80 a slice. Coffee around £2.

Words & Photos: Stephen Emms

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