North London Food & Culture


Bintang: how a local reinvented itself, from BYOB to small plates

This Kentish Town classic cleverly pivots to suit the ever changing ways Londoners eat

Filipino fusion restaurant Bintang, which has been going since 1987, is a fascinating example of how a neighbourhood restaurant can adapt to survive; it’s also something of a masterclass in how it can both lead and mirror current trends.

This once ramshackle BYOB on the grubby lower Kentish Town Road has been there ever since I moved to Camden in the late 90s. Back then a gang of us would go and spend about a fiver each, laden with £4 wine from the nearest offie, and linger all evening. It was a riot.

And it continued that way – beloved of students and twentysomethings – until the early teens, when both its concept and interior was updated.  As a bit of fun, here’s how we’ve covered its many changes over the last 14 years of Kentishtowner’s existence – using our own words from the time.

So, without further ado, first, let’s rewind back in time to 2010. And don’t forget to scroll down for our verdict on its 2024 incarnation.



Bintang, 2010. Photo: SE

We said: “Bintang is a Kentish Town institution, yet still not as consistent as it should be. Oozing vibes and atmosphere, with its Malaysian shack-like interior, candle-lit tables in close proximity, and BYO wine policy (hooray!) our advice remains to stick with vegetarian and fish dishes and avoid anything meaty (chicken knuckles have been known to turn up in the curries). Yes, it’s a fantastic hidden find that literally will set you back less than a tenner a person. You’ll probably need to book, or turn up before 7pm as it’s that popular with students and other spendthrift locals.” Read the full review here. 


The 2012 revamp: Bintang. Photos: SE

We said: “Its new interior is something of a shock. Jeepers, haven’t things changed! Pimped-up ‘rough luxe’ sophistication abounds: brick walls, bare bulbs, breeze blocks, flickering tea lights, eclectic oriental art. It’s only gone and done a bleedin’ Spuntinoditch on us. But there was, we admit, a niggling sense of nostalgia over the loss of the tiki hut. And as for the food? Prices seemed higher. Our wok-fried whole sea bass in a ‘signature’ lemongrass and tamarind sauce was a whopping £14.50: it simply wasn’t zingy enough, the fish a rather bony animal. Much better was ‘nonya chicken’, tender and marinated in flavoursome spices (£8). A side of stir-fried aubergines with soy lemon and coriander was tasty but £4.50? Ouch. However, it’s still BYO so the total bill can never be too shocking: only £35 for two – and that’s if you eat as greedily as we did.” Read the full review. 


Bintang: dishes, 2013 era. Photo: SE

We said: “Everyone has a bit of history with Bintang, but as we also remarked a year back, the initial refurb and food offering didn’t seem that impressive. A casual visit last Thursday has changed all that. Whatever doubts once nurtured have vanished: the stylish interior is now more lived in and, well, just hangs together better: neon signs, coffee grinders, bare wood, breeze blocks, intriguing art. Suitably flickery candle-light for these cold nights too.

But what really stood out this time was the food. It’s on another level, the menu sprinkled with on-trend items like salmon sashimi and crab croquettes. Salt and pepper squid aside, too heavy on the batter, the other four plates were excellent: spicily dressed edamame beans (jokingly rechristened “eddie mummy” beans); velvety chicken dumplings with fragrant notes of coriander; deeply savoury chicken liver “popcorn”, served with nonya, the spicy, tangy Chinese dip; and – the masterpiece – a delicious plate of wasabi prawn tempura, piled with cod roe and hitting every note of umami-ness you could wish for.” Read the 2013 review. 


The 2018 makeover. Photo: SE

We said: “Despite the kitchen being about to close, signature wasabi prawn tempura  was sweet, juicy and fiery in equal measure, with mango salsa, followed by steamed gyoza with chicken and coriander. Oh, and then a couple of good-sized pillowy bao buns, filled with duck confit and tofu respectively. Also recommended? Sweet potato nori fries with coriander aioli. Plus noodle dishes, laksa and curries by the shedload. Phew.

But a small point: what’s happened to the wooden crates, neons and dangling lights creating a lovely rosy glow? The back counter has been stripped and cleared out leaving a rather stark, overly bright café-like feel to the place. Let’s hope it’s still work in progress.” Read the 2018 review.


How it looks in 2024. Photo: SE

We say: “A glow-up is an understatement. In 2023 Bintang’s interior was almost entirely reinvented, with an expensive marble counter, bare brick walls, around which most guests now dine, plus a handful of tables-for-two – and a completely redesigned (and much more stylish) basement dining room.

There’s a vogueish neon sign reflected in the marble, a cocktail happy hour (£6 each until 7pm) and a small plates menu of curries, noodles, meat, fish and starters.

Bintang, 2024. Photo: SE
Prawn pancit: Bintang, 2024. Photo: SE

As for the food? A slider was packed with short rib in a pandesal (Filipino) bun, we enjoyed the crunchy chicken skin chicharon strips, and okoy fritters – root vegetables – came with a moreish dip.

The classic chicken liver popcorn wasn’t quite as good as I remember, but a Filipino special prawn pancit glass noodle dish (above) was a true highlight, the crustaceans fat and juicy, with a spicy and sour sawsawan dip.

While it’s not the cheap and cheerful everyday BYOB of yore, it’s about as destination as a neighbourhood restaurant can be. And cash-o-phobes, it’s now, of course, card only. Let’s salute Bintang as it comes up to its 40th birthday: long may this genuine institution thrive.

Bintang is at 93 Kentish Town Rd, London NW1 8NY, open daily. More info here. 

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.