St John is to N19 what The Junction is to NW5: longstanding, multi-roomed and popular with a fiercely loyal crowd of locals.
We’ve been frequently over the years – casual in the pub, or formal in the restaurant – and in fact, it’s the epitome of the gastropub concept.
On our most recent visit, an invite as part of last month’s Archway special print issue, the food didn’t quite seduce us. We always enjoy the palatial gloom of one of the capital’s great pub dining rooms, of course. Lit by chandeliers, it’s lined, on one wall, with eclectic gothic portraits, above a series of curved, conspiratorial leather banquettes.
And the chalked-up menu is a tonic for weary post-work eyes, peppered with on-trend delights like Jerusalem artichokes, Scotch eggs (pictured), jellied pig’s heads and golden beetroots.
Starters weren’t bad: duck liver pate was smooth as butter, creamy and rich, and perfectly contrasted our other choice, a soused mackerel, all clean appley Scandinavian nuances. We accompanied both with a cheeky Cotes Du Provence rosé (don’t blame us, the sun was still out).
But the mains disappointed. Lamb chops were overdone, and served with unnecessary goat’s cheese on a mountain of mash and greens. A lighter-sounding silver mullet with courgette, samphire and fennel was astonishingly meaty, but lacking in flavour, and barely straddled another mound of vegetables.
We asked a member of staff about their portion sizing. He explained that the pub is so long-established that they get extra-large size cuts from their suppliers. That’s great for customers, but it seems surprising to be dishing up such vast rural pub-sized plates on Junction Road (one defeated couple near us had their left-overs packaged up to take home). Not that the menu is wildly expensive: both mains were under £15. So you certainly get quantity if you’re hungry.
The verdict? A wonderful interior, full of character, with an interesting ale, lager and wine list – and somewhere to take out-of-towners keen to see a traditional London gastropub.
But in 2014, the cooking, well-priced and substantial though it is, doesn’t quite match the wow factor of that dazzling dining room.
This is box title
Starters from £6, Mains from £11. House wine £17.50 91 Junction Rd, London N19 5QU
This is box title
7 more pit stops to consider in N19
Café on the “island” with beautiful polished wooden floor, white tiled back bar and stylish pendant lighting. Cakes, fresh salads and sarnies, plus cute enclosed courtyard garden out back. Strong coffee too. Original Victorian frontage and exterior. Super-friendly service and very dog-friendly (our excited Jack Russell even bagged a free sausage).6 Archway Close, Archway Island, N19
Bread and Bean
A pleasant corner site with large windows, against which mostly solo customers or duos perch with laptops, newspapers or books. Bare bulbs, lots of wood, a counter of tempting sweet stuff. Macchiatos are thick, with a pleasantly floral aroma. Review here. Also worth checking out is their sister site Spoke. 37 Junction Road, N19 5QU
Locals’ favourite on the Highgate borders and well worth hunting out, with ex-chef of the Junction Tavern, Jimmy Tirinzoni, at the helm. Feast on roast quail, yellowfin tuna, gnocchi or sirloin at this small and often packed room that only opened earlier this year. 83 Hazelville Road N19
A staple since the late 90s, this tube-side spot offers simple pizzas and pastas in a spacious interior; or risk the weather in the sensational oasis, complete with palm trees, bamboo and tropical plants. 24 Junction Road N19
Napoli-born friends opened this chic new Italian diner a few months back. Expect Venetian spritzes, baby chicken, antipasti, fish, salads and pastas. A garden out back, too, for warmer times. 10 Archway Close N19
Gnocchi, home-made breads and ravioli, with a menu changing seasonally. Simple interior. Michelin-recommended, too. 782 Holloway Road N19
On the section of Junction Road that some call Tufnell Parkway is this tiny destination tapas bar. Watch bearded chef Steve Moorish at work in a glass box kitchen in the centre. Read our full review here167 Junction Rd N19 5PZ
For ideas on where to shop in Archway, head here. For our guide to the area’s best drinking spots read this. And get the lowdown on the Saturday market here.