Longer-term residents in Kentish Town might remember that 2012 was not just about the Olympics. It was the year NW5 had its – well – moment. At least in a food-and-drink sense, anyway.
It had always been a brilliant and underrated neighbourhood, of course – drum roll for classics like Mario’s Café, the Torriano (now Rose & Crown), Southampton Arms, the Pineapple, Kentish Canteen – but in that year there were a flurry of key food openings whose legacy has lived on today.
At the end of 2011 a couple of acclaimed new arrivals led the march: the much-missed Arancini Brothers, and nearby classy beans purveyor Doppio, who took over a boarded-up studio to launch their unique roastery and café. This was quickly following in spring 2012 by then-tiny local independent Camden Brewery’s taproom (unimaginable now that there was time when those railway arches were derelict). Look at its easygoing pared-back bar, above.
A couple of months later, just moments away on Prince Of Wales Road, slightly forlorn boozer The Grafton was taken over by ideas-led young couple Joel and Susie Clarke and, for a year or two, became the hottest hangout in the area, home to hip pop-ups, the era’s best chefs (remember the Fat Butcher?) – and more. Hard to believe now, but you really would struggle to get a table in its dining room at one point.
Meanwhile, the big hitter at the other end of Kentish Town on Highgate Road was, of course, Soho House’s triple-headed behemoth comprising Pizza East and two brand new (at the time) adjoining concepts, Chicken Shop and Dirty Burger (the whole space is now Never For Ever).
The patty joint was housed in a shack behind the landmark corner building, while the hipster poultry specialist was situated down unmarked steps which led to a dimly-lit basement. Chicken Shop was by far the most popular of the trio: no-bookings, it was so successful that the queue became part of the experience. Meanwhile, upstairs, Pizza East’s legendary ‘keyrings’ nights (everything 50% for locals only) kept it humming midweek.
In the midst of this energy across the area emerged the calm oasis of the Fields Beneath cafe. Living a few minutes’ walk from Talacre at the time, how often I’d walked past the empty unit by the then dilapidated Silverlink station (it only became the Overground with its signature Orange logo in time for the Olympics) and hoped for somewhere decent to pick up coffee. It really was such a welcome addition to the street.
Owner Gavin Fernback (now Winterwell) started simply – with artisan coffee, high quality sandwiches and pastries – but attracted a loyal local following from the outset. The tiny, minimal room, with its big side window over the cobbles had a kind of magic about it (we loved it so much we even hosted a boozy pop-up or two).
Following his own personal journey, the café became vegan in 2017, and – despite initial concerns about the change in offer – it has never looked back, building up a huge Instagram following for its delicious – and extremely un-boring – plant-based lunch offerings.
And now this month they turn 10: to celebrate, they dished up a brew on the house to locals. “On our first day we gave away free coffee to anyone who lived locally,” he says. “And so we did it again on Friday (21st Oct) and Saturday (22nd October, our actual birthday).” Here’s to another decade.
Follow @fieldsbeneath on Instagram. Article updated 27th Oct.