Charles Lamb

16 Elia Street , London, N1 8DE

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SquareMeal Review of Charles Lamb

Sitting on a quiet Islington backstreet, its weathered Victorian tiles sporting lovingly tended hanging baskets, this cosy corner pub is a congenial spot for lucky locals. Easy-going staff make everyone (newcomers as well as the regulars) welcome. The landlady cut her teeth here before launching the award-winning 69 Colebrooke Row, & her care & attention to detail is evident in everything: from the laudable list of Old World wines to the posh peasant food on the blackboard menu. English & French influences produce satisfying ‘simple but not plain, thoughtful but not over-elaborate’ dishes: the likes of potted crab with aïoli & toast; steak, mushroom & Guinness pie with green beans & mash; & rhubarb syllabub. Beers are well-kept & discerningly selected at this free house, with Dark Star’s Hophead & Meantime on tap, as well as bottles of Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada & Anchor Steam.

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5.8

Food & Drink: 7.4

Service: 6.2

Atmosphere: 7.6

Value: 6.0

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 5.0

Atmosphere: 5.0

Value: 4.0

London Eater silver reviewer 24 February 2012

A cute local neighbourhood pub where staff interact with you and treat you like a friend, rather than a paying customer. A great place for a Sunday lunch though i've had better roast beef elsewhere – the meat was slightly chewy and the horseradish lacked a punch! Very relaxed and friendly pub. Go check it out!

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 4.0

Atmosphere: 5.0

Value: 4.0

LamBert 10 April 2010

Pubs in residential areas tend to fall into two categories. The first resemble static caravans and service overspill-estates. Generally, unless you’re 6’3”/250lb, you wouldn’t walk through the door of one without being prepared to leave via a window. In the other are those extraordinarily charming, terraced backstreet nirvanas that blend in so seamlessly that the only clue they’re there at all is their softly illuminated, gently swaying, come-hither signage. The kind of place, as I once heard a wise man say – Richard Stilgoe was it ? – about which telling someone is like boasting you know how to find it. A few streets back from Angel tube, the Charles Lamb is a boozer that knows its business. Marketed as a Pub and Kitchen (read ‘booze’ and ‘nosebag’), it’s unpretentious – there’s no accounting for everybody that uses it – has been appointed classically and with excellent taste, and then split aesthetically and spatially down the middle. Always busy and atmospheric, the range of product on offer in this pub is pound for pound about as good as I’ve seen and the wide-ranging demographic in attendance is testament to its appeal. Immediately of note, particularly during the colder months, are the warm spiced cider and the mulled wine. Both well-considered crowd -pleasers and pertinently, for those with a healthy, well-meant enjoyment of a mixed clientele, both pleasers of crowds of women. Smart move. Another real asset is the expertly assembled wine list which features at its head the Charles Lamb’s own cuvee, sourced directly from French producers as a conscientious move to curtail rising wholesale prices. This represents terrific value as the cornerstone of an all-European portfolio, among which a guest is normally available by the glass. Along the bar is a balance of everything you might reasonably expect in the way of lager, as well as a couple of continental options you might not. In the way of beer, not every hand pump is in operation at all times, but the stock real ale tends to be Dark Star’s Hophead – a lightly floral example of a style largely responsible for that drink’s recent resurgence – and it’s always in cracking nick. Ideal for chasing down a ramekin of roasted almonds or wasabi peas. Or chilli crackers. The cooking here is honest and the food’s really bloody decent. Simple but not plain, thoughtful but not over-elaborate, the menu has a French-flavour and for London is very sensibly priced. Above all though, and I love this about it; it’s tight. There’s choice without there being too much to think about. A handful of Starters, half a dozen Mains, four or five Desserts. From examples such as potted crab with aioli and toast (£5.50), through lamb sausages with lentils and crème fraiche (£10.50), to a custard tart (£4.50), it’s all deadly. This is a great thing for two reasons. One, it doesn’t distract from the fact that this is, unmistakably, a Pub. Two, by keeping it compact they’re indirectly reaffirming a duty to their customers and their responsibility as a Kitchen to supply fresh food. They can and will allow themselves, just occasionally, to sell out of a dish or two. Leave them hungry. Besides, the enormous quiche flaunting itself on the back bar and the lazy susan of sausage rolls and pasties under your nose are available either hot or cold. With ketchup. So get stuck in and have another pint. And get me one while you’re there. If I had to take issue with the menu itself, it would be to say that it can often require too close scrutiny in order to determine precisely what’s what on it. Make no mistake; I appreciate a blackboard. But they’re a means to clearly and concisely deliver information. If it’s your only means, presentation (this one isn’t brilliantly written) and positioning (just inside the door) are key, particularly in a place as crowded as the Lamb gets. Given I’m often a few sheets by the time I come to order mine invariably it couldn’t matter less to me. But I do know there are punters who can be reticent to approach the oche, especially if either the board or its vantage point encroaches on others people's dancing space. It can be a private matter deciding what to eat, and taking the floor can be daunting enough without getting in anyone else’s hair. I do recall also thinking that the CL’s last Christmas party menu trod all too precariously the line between keeping it tight and almost missing a trick. It’s an art, sure, and in no way should any establishment feel an obligation to its offer. I would worry, however, that by opting to overlook the traditional rather than simply get creative around it I might just dissuade an office collective with a budget that’s otherwise ready to party. No turkey ? No chocolate ? Enough said… In terms of rough and smooth, mind you, that’s all I’ve got. The pub’s owners know exactly what they want this place to be. The temptation, particularly in this part of town, to try be all things to all people must be enormous. The decision to set your gastronomic parameters to those things you know for certain you can do consistently well, whilst appearing simply to be common sense is therefore, I think, two things. It’s bravely reserved, and it’s confidence inspiring to consumers who, in uncertain times, just want something they can rely on. People, I give you the Charles Lamb.

Food & Drink: 5.0

Service: 5.0

Atmosphere: 5.0

Value: 5.0

Darren K. 02 October 2009

This is simple one of the best pubs you'll find anywhere in the country, its a model for how community pubs should be if they're to survive in these difficult time.

Food & Drink: 1.0

Service: 0.0

Atmosphere: 1.0

Value: 1.0

Karina G. 02 May 2009

Utterly rude staff. Menu was changed after we ordered such that most of what was on offer was toast, and they don't serve any side dishes! I wouldn't go here again if you paid me

Food & Drink: 3.0

Service: 0.0

Atmosphere: 2.0

Value: 0.0

Dinesh Y. 02 May 2009

Upon visiting the pub to ask what time they served lunch we were very rudely told they weren't open yet. We managed to find out that, as they don't take bookings, we should arrive early as the pub itself is quite small. So we arrived in good time (midday) on the day in question, to find no-one else there until half an hour later, not all of whom were eating. We ordered our lunches, one of the group requesting the lamb to be cooked through as she was pregnant. The waiter curtly responded that the lamb comes medium/rare and that therefore our friend did not then have the right to complain if it was overdone. We then were told that the mushroom tart was not in fact a tart but mushrooms on toast, and the new potatoes with the mackerel would be replaced by toast also. One of the group asked if he could have a potato side dish, to be told abruptly “no” as they don't do sides. So we finished our meals (admittedly a mistake) and then decided we would politely ask if our bill could be reduced as half the menu was replaced with toast. The staff were not only extrememly rude in their response but tried to charge us for an extra main, presumably not expecting us to actually check our bill. Like I say, do not go here.

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