Giles Coren: ‘A shit hole? Are you mad?’

The critic, author and TV presenter on why it makes him angry when outsiders disrespect NW5 – and how he will “always, always fight them on it”

When I first came to Kentish Town from my home in Cricklewood to use the swimming baths in the mid 1970s, it was a shithole. A famous shithole. I was scared to get off the bus here, scared to walk down the pavement, scared to go into the water. But then I was only six. I thought maybe there were sharks in it.

When I moved to Kentish Town in 1994, it was still a shithole. But around that time the Vine closed its loyalist bomb-making room in the saloon bar and went gastro. Kentish Town was still a shithole, but you could eat here.

When I sold my flat and bought a house three doors down in 2003 with a view to starting a family, the Junction had thrown out the drug dealers and poshed up a bit, Harry was selling decent chickens on the high street, we were only seven years away from the Bull and Last reopening as the best pub restaurant in Britain, and there hadn’t been a stabbing death since Jahmai in the Tally Ho car park at the end of the previous century. But Kentish Town was still a shithole.

When my old friend Nick Jones, owner of the Soho House Group, said to me at the beginning of last year, “Giles, I’ve got a new chicken concept that I want to launch alongside a Dirty Burger and a PizzaEast, with a possible option on a Soho House club on the top deck, and people have suggested Kentish Town,” I said “Brilliant idea. Ace. Top spot. Can’t lose.”


And when he said, “But isn’t Kentish Town a bit of a shithole?” I said, “Kentish Town? A shit hole? Are you MAD? Kentish Town is not, never has been and never, ever will be a shit hole. Kentish Town is hot. Kentish Town is the future. You have my word.”

And so he opened Chicken Shop/Dirty Burger/PizzaEast at the bottom of my road, in sight of my front door, all because of me, all because I told him Kentish Town was not a shithole. And the chickens flew out, the place was rammed, life round here was changed forever – especially for the parents of small children – and it became one of the most successful things Soho House Group had ever done.

I had lied to Jones about Kentish Town not being a shithole though. I lied because it made me angry to hear my successful West London friend talking about KT in those terms. It always makes me angry when outsiders disrespect NW5, and I will always, always fight them on it.

Kentish Town may be a shithole, but it is MY shithole.

  • Show Comments

  • Jonathan


  • Jon Simmons

    Sums it up perfectly.

  • James

    Giles Coren is a wanker, but he’s OUR wanker.

  • bridgetfreer

    oh was going to say Giles Coren is a wee shite, but he’s OUR wee shite, but see I’ve been beaten to the punch

  • Gerry

    Aw, it’s lovely to that even the posh can enjoy Kentish Town now. Heartwarming. The irony is that the real people who lived here never thought it was a “shit hole.” Just a great working class area. Now you’ve changed everything into a sterile little village, you can move on to another shit hole and ruin that. You can then keep kidding yourself that you’re an edgy, urban, down with the locals kind of guy. You’re not.

    • NW5 (@nw5)

      Sterile, my arse. Kentish Town can proudly claim that its streets remain laden with rancid, feral dog shit

    • pascal

      Areas change. You can’t really say that it was always a working class village. Look at the housing stock – hardly workmen’s cottages.

    • Schnauzer Minelli

      Dalston, anyone?

    • Pat K

      It’s still a working class area. I have a secondary school education and work and am therefore working class (and real) myself…I still paid over a million for my house though.

  • Robert

    Not sure how adding a very good burger/pizza/chicken joint takes us one step nearer being a sterile little village? Any more than having a great kebab take away ( E Mono ) does.

  • Jamie Nelson

    Never was a shit hole for me. Coren’s views are quite offensive. Views of the old Vine and Junction Tavern. I like the new versions but have fond memories of the old.

  • Clare

    I don’t know anyone that would describe Kentish Town as a ‘sterile little village’. Rubbish. Then again if your definition of ‘sterile’ is not having to keep your eyes to the floor to dodge dog shit, or constantly seeing new trees the council have finally replanted snapped in half time and time again, or not having to stay in because your street is closed off due to a man being stabbed in the head and stomach at 4pm in the afternoon, then frankly, I’ll take sterile.

    • Tim

      I think the reason why people are complaining is because Giles’ article is basically “When I was a kid I thought Kentish Town was shit, twenty years ago it was shit, ten years ago it was shit, then I got my mate to open up another one of his chain restaurants next to my house, its very convenient for me and my kids whenever I fancy a nosh. My mate thought Kentish Town was shit but even though I still think it’s shit today, only I’m allowed to say it”

      When obviously Kentish Town is not shit – but its in danger of becoming sterile if more big international chains are encouraged by success of Soho House with their friends in the media and big marketing budgets to come in and occupy big bits of the local economy. I’d personally rather have a planning system that encourages local firms and small businesses. Of course I like the food in Dirty Burger/Pizza East/Chicken Shop, it’s just that you could be anywhere.

    • Gerry

      Move to somewhere that is even more sterile then. Pretty obvious really.

  • Tim

    Would be really interested to hear Coren’s opinions on why Kentish Town is a shithole. And why is it not ok for ‘outsiders’ to disrespect NW5, but it’s fine for him to call Kentish Town a shit hole eight times in an article online and in print?

    • Giles Coren

      I’m reappropriating the word ‘shit hole’ to mean something positive. I know how KT looks to outsiders and I’m not ducking it. I am proud of it, regardless of its one or two aesthetic and social failings compared to the ‘London Prime Property’ beloved of the international market.

  • Des Whyman

    A great pity you survived the swimming baths

  • Gerry

    As always, it’s interesting to see why people would want to move to an area which they presumably like and then want to change into something else. If a barometer of all this is the local pubs, then they are almost exclusively two-bob non-boozers. With a couple of notable exceptions of course. Mind you, you may have heard all this shit(hole) from me before.

    • Clare

      You can like an area for its architecture, location, facilities etc of which Kentish Town has but not feel safe walking home at night. As a woman I feel safer here now than I did 10 years ago and frankly I’m happy about that.

  • Des

    I have been requested to moderate my comment and I will comply by stating you have knowingly caused great offence against a considerable number of Kentish Town residents. Your constructive suggestions are welcome, but please no more adolescent outbursts.

  • Elina Talvitie (@ElinaHyphen)

    Kentish Town could happily go back to being a bit more of a “shit hole”, as far as I’m concerned, if it meant we could hang on to a population of public-sector workers, artists and others in social/affordable housing.

  • Emma

    Had the most hilarious conversation with an old couple on the Southampton Arms about this. The Kentishtowner print version had just come out, handy copies on the table by the door as standard. This guy and his wife had (clearly mistakenly) picked it up and read Giles’ column. But, they had somewhat ‘missed the point’ if you will:

    “Oi. Hello miss….who is that guy? What is he? Do you know who he is?” the man asks me, out of nowhere.
    “He’s Giles Coren. Restaurant reviewer for The Times. He’s great,” I reply, smiling.
    “Well. Did you see what he wrote? Idiot. He’s going the right way to get punched in the face saying things like that about Kentish Town. Posh prick…” He slugs back his pint. “He dosen’t know anything. Prick.”

    And that was the end of our conversation….



  • Stanlygroom

    Kentish Town – centre of the Universe as far as I’m concerned. It has shit bits and posh bits and bits in between – something for everyone, so we can all be happy with our own little bit of KC.

    • stanlygroom

      Ooops, I mean …our own little bit of KT not KC!