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Moving to London - Good Food Neighbourhood?


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After living in Islington for the past couple of years I have been spoilt with the huge number of excellent delis, fishmongers and restaurants all within close proximity. In the next couple of months I will be moving to Belszie Park and from what I can remember it is a bit of a gastronomic wilderness. I would love to hear from those who might be familiar with the area and can make any interesting recommendations.

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I would love to hear from those who might be familiar with the area and can make any interesting recommendations.

I used to live down at the Chalk Farm end of Belsize.

Ice cream at Marine ices is phenomenal.

Cross the bridge to Primrose Hill and turn left for The Lansdowne and the Engineer, gastropubs in Gloucester Rd.

While your in Gloucester Rd check out Sardo Canale - food incredible though surroundings a little strange - and Melrose and Mason... a sort of grocer/deli/coffee shop for the discerning sleb. It's run by a couple of really nice guys, the food is bang on the button, my wife used to bake their cakes... and I still can't afford it.

Keep going down Gloucester Rd to Parkway and drop into mine for tea.

Avoid like the plague... The Polish tea shop (surly and unpleasant), Troika Tea Room (inedible stodge), any of the Lemonia empire (living on a twenty year old reputation like a Vampire on virgin's blood) all in P Hill 'Village'.

The Sainsbury's over on Finchley Rd at O2 'retail heaven' is your nearest good supermarket....

I'll see if I can remember any more....

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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I would do anything to be back in Belsize Park. I used to consider Belsize Park to be slightly short on gastronomic haunts until the evil hands of the property market dragged me from my lovely (tiny) flat on Belsize Grove to the REAL gastronomic desert of N10. While I know there are many who will argue that my lot is not a bad one, I still feel the pain of not being near a good butcher's (Barratt's on Englands Lane) or within a stone's throw of La Provencal ( the deli on Haverstock Hill). When once I scoffed at Tootsie's and Tapeo (the sort of okay Tapas bar also on Haverstock Hill), I now am faced with a choice of two dodgy pubs, a chippie whose fish is virtually inedible, a revolting Indian take-away, a Tennessee Chicken outlet and two greasy spoons which to profess to sell sandwiches and fry-ups by day and kebabs and pizza by night. Come back Black & Blue, all is forgiven.

Some suggestions for NW3 (other than those mentioned above):

- Artigano in Belsize Village used to be amazing. A real local secret. They're owned by the Etruscan Group - the same people who run Il Convivio on Ebury Street. They used to be as good as Il Convivio but I believe they've had a change of chef and gone down hill since then. It might be worth a try anyway.

- Bagel Street on Haverstock Hill does really nice bagels.

- Cafe Violetta on England's Lane is a nice place to go for a latte or a freshly made smoothie if you can find a seat between all of the prams.

- The Rosslyn Hill Deli in Hampstead (about a 10 min walk up hill) is a complete mecca. I challenge you to go in and not buy something. It's impossible. The back room is filled with American imports since the area has been colonized by people who's businesses have paid their relocation expenses.

- There's a new bakery on Rosslyn Hill (Hampstead) - I don't know the name but the foccacia is like pure heaven.

- The fishmonger's and the vegetable stand next to the Hampstead Market on Rosslyn Hill are both very good.

-Belsize Park is really well situated for Primrose Hill. A 10 minute walk down the hill and Odette's is at your disposal, along with the Troika, which undoubtedly is the best Russian food I've had in London - the best blinis at least. There's also a Sardo (Sardo Canale) in Primrose Hill which is fab.

- Bradley's (Swiss Cottage - another 10 min walk west) is very good and rarely gets any press.

Hope that helps lift your spirits. Islington its not, but NW3 does have a charm all of its own. I'd be back there in a flash if anyone could spare me 1.5 million.

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Interesting you mention Melrose and Morgan I was there recently and was impressed by the mainly English produce and specifically the pretty cupcakes, the staff also seem friendly and knowledgeable.

Sardo Canale is a phenomenal restaurant, thanks for reminding me I went there about a year ago.

Good to hear that the Engineer is still worth a trip I will also check out the Lansdowne. Do you know anything about the Washington on Englands Lane?

Apparently the Belsize Tavern has been taken over by the owner of the Great Eastern Dining Rooms and is due to open in summer. I recently ate there and thought that for a mid priced meal in Shoreditich it was quite good.

Maybe moving back over that way is not so bad after all

Thanks for all your suggestions

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Avoid like the plague... The Polish tea shop (surly and unpleasant), Troika Tea Room (inedible stodge), any of the Lemonia empire (living on a twenty year old reputation like a Vampire on virgin's blood) all in P Hill 'Village'.

Couldn't agree more about Lemonia. Sub-par trat food whose fame relies entirely on the patronage of local slebs'. It's the Greek equivalent of San Lorenzo. The best Greek in the area (and, I'd argue, in London) is Cafe Corfu, about 10 minutes south, just off Camden high street. Pratt Street, I think. Very clever menu.

The Troika's food is undeniably pretty bad. But I still feel it requires visiting occasionally, if only to help it resist turning into a Carluccio's Caffe or a branch of Rigby & Peller.

The Engineer, while decent tuck, is ridiculously overpriced and overcrowded with Gauloises-smoking, ironic-teeshirt-wearing, iPod-discussing types every weekend. Unless it's a sunny day and you can snag a seat in the garden, it's probably not worth the journey or the effort. The Lansdowne has a very similar clientelle, and serves an unambitious menu full of the kind of stuff you'd cook at home. Except at home, you wouldn't have to listen to some 20-something shouting into a mobile phone about the new DBC Pierre book he hasn't read.

The food at the Crown & Goose, on Delancey Street, is not that different from the above two but will leave your wallet and your irritation levels in much better fettle.

Also worth trying is the unassuming whitewashed Japanese about halfway along Parkway. Think The Gate's Belsize Park outpost has closed down (no loss, as it was a pale shadow of the Hammersmith branch), leaving Manna the best option for when you're not feeling carnivore. It's inconsistent, but worth risking.

Head 10 minutes north and you have all Hampstead has to offer, such as The Wells.

Edited by naebody (log)
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Also worth trying is the unassuming whitewashed Japanese about halfway along Parkway.

Sushi Waka! My local. I thought it was an undiscovered gem.

I'm the big bald geezer sucking fish in the corner.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Avoid like the plague... The Polish tea shop (surly and unpleasant), Troika Tea Room (inedible stodge), any of the Lemonia empire (living on a twenty year old reputation like a Vampire on virgin's blood) all in P Hill 'Village'.

The Troika's food is undeniably pretty bad. But I still feel it requires visiting occasionally, if only to help it resist turning into a Carluccio's Caffe or a branch of Rigby & Peller.

Yet further proof that tastes differ. I quite like the Troika, though granted I've not been there for about two years and I tend to visit when its fairly Siberian outside and I need a stodge fix. There really is no denying that their blinis are amazing though, whatever you think of the rest of their food. Russian/Polish fare is pretty much an acquired taste. I know people who won't touch it but I like it and to be fair, the Troika does it well. However if Goulash and potato pancakes aren't your thing, you'd best go down the road to Sardo or the Sushi place.

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Thanks everyone for all the interesting suggestions and for reminding me that there are still some good places to eat. I grew up in Hampstead so am familiar with a lot of the places mentioned, seems like NW3 doesn't have a great turn over of restaurants. Maybe that's a good sign?

I agree with Hallie that Polish food is not to everyones taste, however I grew up in an ashkenazi Jewish home where stodgy stews were the norm. I know that I have been to Troika before but can't recall the meal, however I think that this type of food is perhaps best served in the confines of the home where it can be lovingly prepared.

Sushi Waka sounds cool. When I was growing up we used to go to Jin Kichi on Heath Street which incidentally is still there and also Wakaba, bizarrely located on the Finchley Road, once a shrine to minimalist architecture and excellent sashimi.

From all accounts it appears that Lemonia has gone down hill although this doesn't seem to have affected its popularity, when I drove past on Monday it was completely packed.

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I've been living in W. Hampstead (just over the NW3 border, in NW6) for five years and I fear I take a very dim view - from a food point of view - of Belsize Park, W. Hampstead, Hampstead and Primrose Hill. For a place with so much potential (and money), it is indeed a sad and lonely place to eat. Finchley Road is mostly an abomination of downmarket chains; West End Lane is pretty crummy too; and Hampstead High Street and Haverstock Hill are most depressing of all, totally mediocre Flintstonian background copies of every other 'better' neighbourhood high street - i.e. cookie cutter 'upmarket' and 'family-friendly' chains with laminated identikit menus.

The old-timey Hungarian pastry shop (formerly Louis of Hampstead) probably is no more Hungarian than I am, and has pretty sad fare - though I haven't been to the other one in Hampstead, which is still Louis I think, maybe that one is good. I agree Bagel Street (Belsize Park & off Hampstead HIgh Street) have the only decent bagels in London other than Brick Lane - and I'm not just saying this because the chain is owned by a friend of mine. But you wouldn't want to eat them for every meal.

On West End Lane, the ony bright spots are Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Lupa pizza (if you're desperate for takeaway pizza), Wet Fish for brunch, and Walnut Tree or Walnut something used to be good but the last time I ate there it was deafeningly loud, had terrible service and the food was way too salty.

There are a couple of OK Japanese places on Finchley Road: Wakaba and Haro (I think? It's up a couple of blocks from the 02 centre) but I'm not a connoisseur, and I'm not rushing back...There's even a Benihana, but I don't know how it stays in business.

The exceptions for more special meals, as a couple of people have noted, are Artigiano, very decent Italian in Belsize Park Village, and Bradley's, with dependable French-ish food. Sadly Eriki (uprmarket Indian on Fincley Road) used to be good but has slid down, and I notice they now either sell pizza, or advertise it on behalf of another restaurant - there's a big sign in the window - a sure sign of desperation.

I note with interest that Green Cottage - decent Chinese that had been there forever, but closed - has reopened after many months - and looks exactly the same as before. Maybe they changed their minds.

Anyway, I can't think of more than five restaurants that *may* be owner-operated, much less have anything closely resembling a Chef.

As an aside - though I don't think of Camden/Chalk Farm as near enough to include local haunts - I have to disagree about Marine Ices, I find the flavours are bland and the ice cream has a chalky texture, as if it has been thawed and refrozen. If you're going to go that far for ice cream, may as well go to Odonno in Selfridges or South Ken, which I think may have the only decent ice cream in all of London at the moment but happy to be proven wrong.

Gastrochick - all that said - I live in hope, and am always open to suggestion. I would LOVE to venture a bit farther afield, for Polish food, Japanese, for good Italian - haven't heard of Sardo Canale - and make some new discoveries, so do PM me if you're looking for a dining partner.

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You hear good things about the chippy in Muswell Hill--is it that bad?

Still, can't beat the gastronomic desert that is Finchley. Two Brothers Fish & Chips is all we can manage.

For decent bagels you need to venture slightly further north--to my taste Daniels in Temple Fortune is best. (New York native.) Carmelli's also not bad, but because of their kashrut certificate, they use lousy cream cheese. Very handy for the station and open really late after Shabbat except in summer.

I've been here almost 2 years now and I still haven't found many good places to eat that don't cost the earth. And I'm completely puzzled--people in outer NW London have money, but caring about going out for a decent meal--forget it!

Oh yes, there's also a Waitrose on Finchley Road, south of the O2 centre (no idea about parking); and I believe a farmer's market in the O2 carpark once a week (wednesday afternoon?)

Edited by Alexis (log)
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Got to agree and disagree with some of the above posts.

The Engineer: the food is repeatedly the blandest in London. They seem to take pride in food that never ever has any flavour.

The Queens is much better, although can get rammed and doesn't have the outside space.

The best meal in PH is a bottle of wine, some chips from the chippy, some mayo, a few nibbles from the deli on Regents Park Rd and sitting half way up the Hill watching the sun go down over London.

In West Hampstead the only rays of light are the sushi places on Finchley Rd, especially Wakaba and Yuzu. You could go slightly further west to Vijay's in Kilburn, one of the finest South Indian restaurants in London.

It's a travesty that Retsina is no longer in Primrose Hill. It's an equal travesty that Lemonia is still so popular (and there are two of them)

There's a fantastic bakery in Hampstead called Gail's, part of the Baker & Spice group. Zen is pretty decent chinese and Villa Bianca has old school Italian charm. Otherwise it's a bit of a culinary desert.

Daniel's are the best bagels - no question.

For good sushi Camden way, there's a place behind Mornington Crescent tube called Asakusa, truly excellent

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Yes - Czech social club is there, but it has a new name (in tiny print on the menu) - have always been curious. And I stand corrected about Louis in Hampstead, apparently there is still a Louis and he is (still) Hungarian. But the atmosphere and the pastries are still desultory/stodgy (respectively). If Gail's is indeed part of the B&S group then it's head & shoulders above anything else on the street, and a welcome addition !

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If Gail's is indeed part of the B&S group then it's head & shoulders above anything else on the street, and a welcome addition !

I couldn't remember the name, but yes Gail's in Hampstead is divine! The service is incredibly friendly too. Its obvious that the staff love what they're selling.

Generally speaking, I agree with everyone's sentiments about this part of North London being strangely devoid of really outstanding places to eat. The same applies to Muswell Hill. People obviously have lots of cash (it seems that 5 bedroom houses near the Broadway are now selling for 2 million) but no one really seems to want to eat out. Though, the optimist in me thinks that its only a matter of time before some enterprising chef realises that the entire area's a goldmine that's crying out to tapped.

I've not eaten at Toff's on the Broadway. A lot of people have warned me off. Sadly, I usually end up at Giraffe - which, if you can stand the screaming kids, seems the lesser of all of the area's evils.

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Generally speaking, I agree with everyone's sentiments about this part of North London being strangely devoid of really outstanding places to eat. The same applies to Muswell Hill. People obviously have lots of cash (it seems that 5 bedroom houses near the Broadway are now selling for 2 million) but no one really seems to want to eat out.  Though, the optimist in me thinks that its only a matter of time before some enterprising chef realises that the entire area's a goldmine that's crying out to tapped.

I've not eaten at Toff's on the Broadway. A lot of people have warned me off. Sadly, I usually end up at Giraffe - which, if you can stand the screaming kids, seems the lesser of all of the area's evils.

Sadly Hallie - I was hoping for the very same thing during my eight years in Southgate- it just didn't happen. As you say and I as have written elsewhere- there are thousands of cash rich families in that part of North London, and yet there is a complete dearth of any decent restaurants. I just can't fathom why it should be so?

Edited by Bapi (log)
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Yes - Czech social club is there, but it has a new name (in tiny print on the menu) - have always been curious.

I'd recommend a visit for sociological reasons if not for culinary ones. Wait for a warm day - I vaguely remember it's got some gardens to get sloshed in.

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As you say and I as have written elsewhere- there are thousands of cash rich families in that part of North London, and yet there is a complete dearth of any decent restaurants. I just can't fathom why it should be so?

Not just a North London problem - cf. Dulwich.

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As you say and I as have written elsewhere- there are thousands of cash rich families in that part of North London, and yet there is a complete dearth of any decent restaurants. I just can't fathom why it should be so?

It's simple really. Places like Dulwich, Muzzie, Holland Park and great chunks of Kensington & Chelsea are restaurant-free zones because they are populated mostly by 30-somethings with very young kids. This demographic, while cash rich by average standards, works long hours in zone 1, does not live in extended families, and cannot rely on tight social groupings (or "friends", as they're otherwise known).

That has two effects: it means they have much less opportunity than average to eat out, and when they do they have to make the outings special to justify the hassle of finding childcare, transport, etc. That will usually mean going to a central destination-type restaurant. (Note the discussion elsewhere about Jon Ronson's trip to Dans Le Noir, in which a celebrated author travels from North London to a novelty eaterie in Shoreditch so he can have the first kid-free evening meal with his wife in the seven years since the sprog was born.)

As a result, any place that sets out to feed rich localities with posh tuck will limp by on very little weekday trade, whereas somewhere similar in a younger, childless demographic such as Labroke Grove, Islington or Camden does much better despite relying on a less moneyed clientelle.

I call this Naebody's First Law of Gastronomic Inversion. Feel free to drop it into your own conversations.

Edited by naebody (log)
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Hmm. I'm not so sure that's the only reason. There's a cultural thing going on too. I'm from Long Island, and goodness knows that's full of families with kids, and yet there's plenty of restaurants. You don't get hugely exciting cuisine (the usual LI idea of fine dining involves the largest steak you can find) but it's pretty good and everyone goes out. You can always find a decent local Italian or American or Chinese place to go to when Mom doesn't want to cook. It's a sad commentary on the state of affairs that my (English) husband is amazed at the choice & price of restaurants near my parents' place!

Of course, there's the LI JAP joke:

What does the JAP make for dinner?

Reservations.

(NB: I'm Jewish and I'm allowed to make that joke.)

Alternatively, we can blame Barnet and Camden councils for making it so utterly impossible to park that no one with children can risk taking them out unless it's to somewhere with its own car park.

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Hmm. I'm not so sure that's the only reason. There's a cultural thing going on too. I'm from Long Island, and goodness knows that's full of families with kids, and yet there's plenty of restaurants. You don't get hugely exciting cuisine (the usual LI idea of fine dining involves the largest steak you can find) but it's pretty good and everyone goes out. You can always find a decent local Italian or American or Chinese place to go to when Mom doesn't want to cook. It's a sad commentary on the state of affairs that my (English) husband is amazed at the choice & price of restaurants near my parents' place!

Of course, there's the LI JAP joke:

What does the JAP make for dinner?

Reservations.

(NB: I'm Jewish and I'm allowed to make that joke.)

Alternatively, we can blame Barnet and Camden councils for making it so utterly impossible to park that no one with children can risk taking them out unless it's to somewhere with its own car park.

I agree about the parking restrictions especially in Hampstead where it is impossible to park. Also the extortionate rents squeeze out independent businesses and mean that only the high street names can afford to remain. I grew up in Hampstead and it is a different place today.

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Actually Naebody's onto something. This is exactly what a restaurateur who's been in Richmond for about 15 years said when I asked how it was possible that his place, a very welcoming, bijou bistro-like place with a wine list to die for, was empty on a Friday night. He said that the demographics had changed since he opened, such that those who worked in central London were more inclined to eat out in Central London, and go straight home where babysitters were looking after the kids.

The other reason - and this is a less empirical but personal observation - food is just not important to the vast majority of people, they see it as sustenance rather than as a source of entertainment, catalyst to conversation and fulfilment etc. People who live in Holland Park, Muswell Hill, Hampstead etc. etc. are no different.

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I think people are being a bit harsh on the food in this part of London. Whilst I accept we're not overflowing with excellent food there are some real bright spots in and around NW London.

I'd include Kalendar & Cafe Mozart in Highgate; Pane Vino in Kentish Town; Dizengoff in Golders Green; The Lord Palmerston in Dartmouth Park.

As for why there aren't more decent places I agree that it's a reflection on the general culture - attitudes to going out and also the way London and it's suburbs have developed. The only advantage for a decent chef to open a place outside of the centre are the far lower overheads - a significant advantage but one that is counter-balanced by the loss of visibility. Morgan M in deepest darkest Holloway is a case in point.

I also think that often the gems to be found outside the centre of town are the ones that focus on local communities viz one or two of the restaurants in Golders Green and the multitude of decent Indian restaurants in Southall.

The strong presence of gastropubs and excellent cafes / pizza places, rather than high-end gastrodomes is because all too often people associate going out with going into town (the West End).

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Hmm. I'm not so sure that's the only reason. There's a cultural thing going on too. I'm from Long Island, and goodness knows that's full of families with kids, and yet there's plenty of restaurants. You don't get hugely exciting cuisine (the usual LI idea of fine dining involves the largest steak you can find) but it's pretty good and everyone goes out. You can always find a decent local Italian or American or Chinese place to go to when Mom doesn't want to cook. It's a sad commentary on the state of affairs that my (English) husband is amazed at the choice & price of restaurants near my parents' place!

Aha. Indeed, it is partly cultural. But that just reinforces my point.

It's no coincidence that the most successful eateries in London's major babyzones -- Giraffe, Tootsies, Banners -- could all be transplanted effortlessly into any US strip mall. On both sides of the Atlantic, people who eat out with kids will routinely want cheap burgers, cheesy pasta and chicken gougons that arrive 90 seconds after ordering. And they want them served among people who won't light up Cohibas, tutt, or stare daggers when your two-year old decides to annex the neigbouring table to use as a fort.

The Americans, generally, are more tolerant of other people's children than the British. They're also much better at the kind of big, cheap, uncomplicated food that arrives in minutes and appeals to children's taste and parents' pockets. Hence, America has more eateries in the 'burbs than Britain, albeit with less variety.

Of course, the ideal solution would be to have good local restaurants doing simple but well sourced food in an atmosphere that's relaxed enough to cope with sprogs. But then, we'd all be living in Italy.

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But then, we'd all be living in Italy.

Actually you may have a point there.

Most of the North London suburban villages still feature a neglected, family owned Italian trattoria. We should probably start using these places before they're all replaced by Stradas and we're left wondering where they went.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Cross the bridge to Primrose Hill ... The Engineer, gastropubs in Gloucester Rd.

... check out Sardo Canale - food incredible though surroundings a little strange -

Oh dear, the best thing about this place - and I mean this in the loosest sense - is that the engineer is allegedly robert plant's local. So if you’re into sex, drugs & curly hair, this is the pace for you. Sardo ranges for OK to truly offensive & is no improvement from the one off tot crt rd.

I’m afraid NW3 (& NW1, where I now live) is a fairly sad place to be food wise & I used to live in Hackney.

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