The midday meal is something we consider endlessly in the Kentishtowner office. There’s a lot at stake, if you want to fill up but continue to work for the rest of the day – without dipping under the desk for a crafty snooze.
Too much bread? I’m yawning like a post-prandial hound; but a salad – however refreshing – sometimes doesn’t hit the spot either. So here’s an enthusiastic, if non-comprehensive, guide to some neighbourhood places worth your daytime dollar.
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1. Cafes, canteens and restaurants – in search of the fiver snack
Starting on Queen’s Crescent, we’ve been known to frequent Efe Ocakbasi for a decent takeaway shish (which comes in about £4). Arancini Factory, of course, does the wrap thing too, with those winning risotto balls, although it’s always rammed.
In Camden, a mergez sausage wrap at French & Grace is one of the most colourful options. And Chalk Farm Road’s bohemian Village Cafe serves up a mixed plate of meze for about a fiver (with free “Grandma’s soup”): blink in its candle-list interior and you could be in Beyoglu, or Berlin.
Sometimes we go “posh” and head to Belsize Park for a change: Gail’s on Haverstock Hill do a healthy salad – say parmesan crust chicken, or beetroot, feta and lentils – served with two doorstep slices of brown bread for a bargainous £5.50. Tap water is on hand so no need to waste cash on expensive sparkling or juices. Even better is the Black Truffle deli (main pic) on England’s Lane – a huge salad packed with butternut squash, leaves and chicken will be a fiver.
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2. Bargain-hunting in a boozer
Good cheap pub lunches are an obsession, naturally. Hence our excitement at the George IV, on the corner of Holmes and Willes roads, serving up what we believe to be the best-value pub sarnie in London (a teensy £2!). Speaking of which, the Southampton Arms is always-reliable too, but their enormo £4 baps are so deeply stuffed with pork or cheese as to make them only occasional treats.
Other food pubs in the neighbourhood seem to focus on lunch for about £6-7. The Colonel Fawcett goes in at £6.90 for its own quality take on British dishes like a steak sarnie. Nearby, the Abbey serves up its mouthwatering Phileas Hogg signature burger for £6.75; while the Grafton specials hovers around the £7 mark: on a recent visit we loved their ham, egg and chips; in fact, is it possible for cured meat to be so tasty? (Incidentally, resident kitchen the Fat Butcher has become one of Kentish Town’s most consistent dining options, with their imaginative menu, attention to detail and good service.)
What else? Now under new management, Highgate Road’s The Vine have re-thought their offering too, with some inspired items (see full review in our new print issue) like corned beef hash with poached egg (see pic below). At just £5.75, it’s probably the best dish in NW5 for under six quid: rich meatiness, a creamy yolk, the saucy kick of “devilled jus”. But a £7 blackboard special of sausages and mash was less flavoursome.
Off Camden Square is sleepy boozer The Lord Stanley; its full-price menu is quite foodie, although recent experiences tucking into the good-value £6 lunch specials have been disappointing: fishcakes, for example, had barely a shred of haddock in them.
Caught hungry by the tube? The Oxford does a reliable lunch spesh – say tender squid salad, or pollock – for between £6-7: sometimes it’s outstanding for the price, although there was a long time delay on our last visit. The one thing you don’t want is to wait more than ten minutes to get a single course, especially on a weekday with just a glass of water for company. They also charge heftily for lime and soda: two pints added £6 to our bill. When did is stop being 80p?
And finally, skiving off on a weekday? It’s a bit of a trek, but climb the hill up to the Horseshoe in Hampstead. Seated in its stylish. airy interior, treat yourself to their daily special – say a huge plate of posh fish and chips, pictured above. As it’s the sister pub of the Camden Town Brewery, you’re in safe hands; but best of all, the bill will be just £8 – with a glass of vino or Hell’s lager thrown in too.
We want to know: where do you eat lunch? And how much do you spend? Where’s good, where’s overpriced? Want to send us a review of your favourite place? Email us: email@example.com