At the height of Covid earlier this year, a flyer was dropped through our door advertising Picholine restaurant (for take-out only, of course). We were impressed by the menu, but as cooking during the never-ending lockdown was one of our main entertainments, we thought we’d wait to visit in person.
We finally swung by this month. Named after the salt-cured French olive, the front of the restaurant doesn’t look very prepossessing, but, once inside, the decor is surprisingly nice.
Initially we were the only three diners, but later on just five more came in. Sure, it’s tucked off the Holloway Road, so quite hidden away, but the more we ate, the more we felt that people were missing a treat.
We started off with some tapas: mussels were swimming in a white wine sauce, laced with garlic, and thickened (we believed) with ground almonds. The lamb meatballs were soft and yielding, while ham croquettes were amazing: a thin, crispy coating, unctuous within – perhaps the best I’ve ever had. We also had the fried fennel, spring onion and courgettes in tempura batter – Portuguese style – with aioli. So far, so yummy.
We then went on to order rice dishes for the main. The arroz negro was fantastic: the squid, in its ink, was rich and dense, probably best shared. Much lighter was arroz a banda, which comprised rice, squid and pimentos, cooked in a fragrant seafood and tomato broth. It had just the right amount of crispiness on the bottom – or socarrat, an integral part of such a dish. In short, all they were – we agreed – the best we’ve tried in London.
Although completely stuffed, we had to sample their desserts – purely out of research, of course. Happily all were excellent and (pleasingly) not too large: chocolate and almond tart, with Pedro Ximenez sherry cream, pannacotta with a tart berry coulis and manchego and quince with pomegranate syrup.
In fact, it was just all so good we were sad to see it empty. And even better, the staff were lovely. The menu is reasonably priced, too: starters hover between £5-7, paella is upwards of a tenner and you can get a decent bottle of house red for £16. With so many great places closed of late in north London it would be a terrible shame to see it go.
And, for those of us who live in Tufnell Park, it’s only a 15-minute walk. So if you love trying new places, a little off the beaten track, there’s quite literally no excuse.
Picholine, 11 Hercules St, London N7 6AT, open daily (5-10m, all day weekends) except Monday. Follow @picholine_restaurant