139 Highgate Road, London, NW5 1LE
The sign outside tersely states ‘Ale, Cider, Meat’ – indeed, this singular hostelry makes no bones about its priorities. Tired of chains and generic pubs-by-numbers, the owners set out to provide something more primordial when they reopened a gritty Victorian boozer in 2009. The Southampton Arms is dedicated to showcasing small UK breweries and cider-makers, and the bar staff are an informed bunch who’ll happily wax lyrical while pulling one of 18 ciders and ales on tap: from the esteemed likes of Dark Star, Redemption or Millwhites. ‘Meat’ finds its way into hearty bar snacks: maybe plump Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, or roast joint of pork ready to be sliced into baps. The look is gloriously dressed down and retro, with worn-in stools and a cosy fireplace. It’s the kind of place you could bed in for the evening with friends, not emerging until the early hours.
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Ground floor, 53-79 Highgate Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 1TL
Freeing fried chicken from its high-street chains, this small but growing operation is run by the hip folk at the Soho House Group. Branches have already sprouted in Tooting, Whitechapel, Holborn and Chicago (yes, the one in Illinois). Down in a woody, retro-styled basement beneath Pizza East (also part of Soho House), Chicken Shop focuses on just the one thing: spit-roasted free-range poultry – quarter, half or whole chickens – served hot, smoky or as they come. Add a few sides such as crinkle-cut fries or corn on the cob, squeeze in a lemon meringue pie at the end, and Bob’s your uncle. So, what’s the word on the bird? The chicken arrives tender and moist, with appropriately crispy skin: a winner. Heineken comes in a can, Camden Pale Ale and Moretti are on draught, and wine is served in jugs. There’s even a takeaway to eat in front of your TV.
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£30 - £49
101 Fortess Road, London, NW5 1AG
The landlords of this spruced-up Victorian tavern take their drink just as seriously as their food, providing handy tasting notes for moderately priced wines, and attracting real ale enthusiasts with a regularly changing line-up – perhaps Adnams Lighthouse, Otter Ale and Naked Ladies (from Twickenham Fine Ales). The pub’s current chef earned his stripes at Vinoteca in Soho, so expect Spanish cured meats, Italian artisan cheeses and Greek deli specialities alongside sustainable fish from British waters, Elwy Valley lamb and Shropshire venison. Typical offerings might range from Hereford beef carpaccio or grilled Cornish mackerel with samphire and ginger dressing to Barnsley chop with fresh cocoa beans, soutzouki, chard and gremolata or hake with chorizo, mussels, clams and potatoes, followed by chocolate St Emilion or Pimms jelly with Chantilly. The conservatory is a plum setting for romantic dinners, and there’s a leafy garden out back.
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323 Kentish Town Road, London, NW5 2TJ
‘Let them eat steak’, declares a vintage poster adorning the back wall of this latest addition to Kentish Town’s burgeoning food scene – and locals take up the challenge in their droves. The concept is simple: “fabulous steaks at reasonable prices”; a loosely French-themed menu centred around cheaper but flavourful cuts; and a focus on beer, complete with pairing suggestions. Brisket jam nuggets and coronation chicken skewers make for robust snacks (perhaps with a bottle of La Rousse Amber Ale), while mains might range from great-value hanger or chateau steaks with truffle béarnaise or chimichurri sauce to a rare beef salad with walnuts and carrots or a bun loaded with sublime beef cheek, gravy and beer cheese dip – complete with cow-shaped gravy jug. Round things off with the ‘brewers mess’ (a brownie, soft caramel and chocolate sauce). In short, a prime neighbourhood choice.
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£30 - £49
79 Highgate Road, London, NW5 1TL
Occupying the premises formerly occupied by a branch of the Grand Union bar chain, this two-pronged behemoth accommodates Pizza East as well as an offshoot of the Chicken Shop – with separate entrances for both. It’s the third branch of a group that also has outlets in Shoreditch and Notting Hill, so expect bold, rustic-industrial design and line-up of firm, chewy pizzas topped with proper ingredients: try the indulgent version with veal meatballs, prosciutto and cream or cotto (salame) with potatoes and Scamorza cheese. Elsewhere, the menu runs all the way from wild boar with polenta and salsa verde to specialities from the wood-fired oven – perhaps mac ‘n’ cheese, salt-baked salmon or chicken with prunes and almonds. Those looking for a sweet hit could plump for the salted chocolate caramel tart, while drinkers should appreciate the choice of reasonably priced Italian wines by the carafe.
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2 Highgate Road, NW5 1JY
William Borrell is the latest entrepreneur to recognise the money-spinning potential of a decommissioned pissoir (see Cellar Door in WC2, The Convenience in E9, WC in Clapham, et al). Nimbys pooh-poohed this local lad’s plans, but Camden council saw sense and green-lighted the Vestal Vodka MD’s conversion of Kentish Town’s Edwardian khazi. Respectable gents – and loos women – might fancy a rhubarb Gin Sour presented in an old Bird’s custard tin, hot apple and pumpkin toddy served in grandma’s best china, or perhaps a Bulleit, butterscotch and Werther’s Original-flavoured Old Fashioned. Dippy decor (think mad Edwardian professor meets Professor Green), dishy staff and decent drinks suggest Borrell’s far from bog-standard bogs will be more than just a flash in the pan.
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£30 - £49
168 Highgate Road, London, NW5 1QS
CURRENTLY CLOSED FOR REFURBISHMENT. REOPENS AUTUMN 2019
With animal heads on its walls (nothing endangered, mind) and a bucolic finish, The Bull & Last has the feel of a country pub in the big city. The ground-floor bar can generate quite a buzz at busy times, so diners might prefer heading up the stairs to the (relative) poshness of the restaurant, where there’s more room to kick back and take in the menu.
Some appealing nourishment is on the cards, treading a line between hearty rusticity and metropolitan refinement. The charcuterie and fish boards offer sharing possibilities, or you could keep scallop ceviche all to yourself. Steak and chips or fish and chips crank up the comfort factor, with the likes of rump of English lamb with Jerusalem artichoke purée and lamb pastilla, and a dessert of black fig Tatin, revealing the culinary chops of the kitchen. London’s microbreweries get a good outing at the pumps.
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