Consider, if you will, who sells the best salt beef in the capital.
Is it, perhaps, the Beigel Bake, the populist choice on Brick Lane? Or are you more of a Brass Rail fan, the Selfridges concession that’s been serving up succulent cuts for over thirty years? Hipsters might even vote for Covent Garden-based Mishkin’s (from the Polpo group) which pairs the classic sarnie with cocktails and stylish light-fittings. And there must be at least one good beefy bagel in Borough Market; not to mention hundreds across north-west London as a whole.
And so to Bell and Brisket, part of the acclaimed Kerb streetfood collective, which pops up daily in King’s Cross. Starting life as a roaming van, B&B founder Bel Shapiro had a dream – as many others have in the last few years – to perfect one classic dish as best she can. That means curing brisket in brine – allowing the salt to break down the tough meat – while letting its flavours shine through.
As of late last year, Bel set up a now-familiar kitchen “residency” set up in just-reinvented Highgate pub the Duke’s Head. Run by ex-Southampton Arms deputy manager Matthew, the interior is similarly stripped back, although perhaps not quite as iconic: bare bulbs, wood, charcoal walls and antlers (no sign of an open fire on our visit, but we’re sure it’s candlelit in the evenings).
Decent booze, too: a good range of around ten cask ales, craft beers (including those from Camden Town Brewery) and a quaffable house red (we guzzled a glass or two). So it’s fair to say it feels fresh for “H-Vill”. Ahem.
From a shortish menu, on that hellishly rainy Monday before Xmas, we swung by drenched – and ordered two sandwiches. The Kount von Kraut (£7) comprised succulent “hand-brined” salt beef, served with melted cheddar, dill and garlic kraut on a Brick Lane bagel, with satisfyingly crunchy tangy pickles.
Meanwhile, the Baron Beethoven (£6.50) chucked in some vinegar-pickled beets and horseradish: dished up in a sturdier black rye bun – which really held the filling well – it just pipped the former to the post. In both, it’s worth noting that the flesh surrendered immediately, melting deliciously in the mouth. Greedily, we gobbled down moreish “naked” fries too (£2.50).
And this is where the fact that Highgate perches atop a steep hill comes in. Stretch your legs for half an hour’s anticipatory climb, beefy goal in mind; and enjoy a post-prandial roll back down, not forgetting to gawp at the view of London unfurling beyond.
Oh, and you could even speed the digestion up a bit with an espresso at the delectable Bread and Bean on Junction Road.