Old caffs, new caffs, pork baps, Filipino ramen, ice cream - Kentish Town has got a serious spread of cuisines. The north London pocket between Camden Town and Tufnell Park may not be the biggest of areas but its locals are fiercely loyal and its restaurants are serious as well. From French wine bars, to British boozers, here’s where you should be eating in and around NW5.
The Filipino bakery from the Maginhawa Group, (owners of Mamasons and Ramo Ramen amongst others) is the place to come to if you’re after a takeaway sandwich or snack in Kentish. Not just any sandwich though. Their corned beef hash sando is a deep-fried, sweet and salty masterpiece that pairs the crunch of batter, the chew of meat, and the soft sweetness of Filipino milk bread. It’s diabolical in its deliciousness. Not least because you’ll want to get an ube pie, other pastries, and an iced Milo mocha as well.
Pub-loving Kentish Towners get all smug about the Pineapple. While so many other pubs go gastro, this remains an old-fashioned place where locals of all ages and credit ratings gather to booze and schmooze. The crowded front and side rooms are where the social action is, the big conservatory in back is where you can stretch your legs, and the garden is the place for good weather. Come and share the smug love.
Norman’s isn’t a caf caf. Its identity feels more i-D magazine than a mug of tea and The Mirror, but that isn’t to be derogatory. Everything and everyone is spot on, making it well worth the walk up past Tufnell Park tube for the experience. The Breakfast Set 2 - a multi-carb delight featuring crispy hash brown, soft bubble and squeak, white sliced, a runny orange egg, thickly reduced homemade baked beans (the best we’ve had of an often disappointing bracket), and an added on sausage for good measure - is extremely good. Nothing reinvented and everything done well. Plus at weekends this caff turns a little more continental, serving wine and small plates.
This Middle Eastern supermarket, one of the best food shops in the area, has a café where you can eat a low-priced lunch of wraps or mixed meze. If you like baklava, buy some either to eat here or take home: they sell a wide range, and it’s so good that people come from all over London to buy it.
E. Mono is the kebab house that convinced Kentish Towners to eat kebabs when sober, not just at the end of a heavy night at the pub. The formula’s simple: large portions of juicy meat, ultra-fresh salads, and good sauces. Order lamb or mixed lamb and chicken, with plenty of garlic sauce and not too much chili. Sit at a table: this is too good to eat standing up. Especially if you’re having trouble standing up, for whatever reason.
Anima may not look like much from the outside, but it’s easily the best restaurant in Kentish Town. The food is modern Italian, with a daily-changing menu that always has lots of fresh pasta. Go for any of the pastas with slow-cooked meat or sensational seafood sauces, and you’ll be in excellent shape. The homemade ice cream also happens to be among the best in London. Lots of people have figured out this place is great, and there are only 22 covers, so book in advance. Anima is BYOB, so bring something special to drink from Clapton Craft up by the station.
Another part of the Filipino mini-empire in the area is Ramo, a comfortable eat-in or takeaway Filipino-influenced ramen spot best known for its oxtail kare kare ramen - a championship winner as the menu notes. The peanut-based broth, inspired by Filipino street food, is thick and luscious, and combined with soft oxtail, a fudgy orange egg, shiitake mushrooms, and some chewy wheat noodles, will give you a warm, contented feeling. There’s a seafood option, a vegan mushroom and walnut ramen, plus other brothy noodles alongside karaage and other small plates as well.
This Parisian-style brasserie is pretty much foolproof: order a cheeseboard, some cured meats of impeccable quality, and a terrine de campagne alongside a half-price cocktail any day of the week between 4 and 5pm. Or come for a dinner of French classics. Things like snails in garlic and parsley butter, confit de canard, and crème brûlée for dessert. Add some serious wines available by the glass, and you’ve succeeded in an excellent night out in NW5.
This narrowly focussed and incredibly popular place, right at the edge of KT’s border with Parliament Hill, sells only ale, cider, and a few meaty snacks and light lunches. The drinks change regularly and come only from small regional brewers. They don’t accept credit cards, but they do have bare wooden floors, an open fire, and a small beer garden. This is one of those places where young people and long-established older residents truly hang out together, just like people in pubs are supposed to do.
The Queen of Sheba
In an area that’s already rich in friendly, homely restaurants where your first thought on leaving is when you’re going to be back for more, The Queen of Sheba still stands out. And there are more than enough options here to see you ordering something different for at least your first 30 or 40 visits. While something like the perfectly tangy awaze ti’bs works well on a solo visit, ideally you should come with two or three friends and order one of the special selections, a sharing platter of salads and delicately spiced vegetarian or meat stews, all served on spongy injera. And make sure not to skip the Ethiopian coffee ceremony when you’re done.
It’s a fact that anything you put inside a milk bun becomes roughly ten times more exciting to eat. And the ice cream at the much-loved and much-queued-for Filipino spot on Kentish Town Road comes in a number of different flavours like ube (purple yam), milo (chocolate malt), and black buko (black coconut), all of which can be eaten in bilog form. Which is basically a pandesal ice cream sandwich. We’re into it and we imagine you will be too. They do also serve their ice-cream in scoops if you’re more into a classic cone situation.
The Bengal Lancer has been Kentish Town’s best Indian restaurant for over two decades. Most orders leave the front door in plastic bags, but the picture-lined space is a good spot for quiet dinners. Focus on the unique dishes, including chicken liver hazri (great sweet and sour sauce) and sabzi begun, an aubergine and chickpea pie. The BL is a long-lived survivor in an area that’s seen a lot of restaurants bite the dust, and there’s good reason for that.
Mario’s (est. 1958 but with some name-changes along the way) is the king of Kentish Town’s old-school greasy spoons and a home-style Italian restaurant. The menu’s nothing fancy, just large servings of well-cooked food at ridiculously low prices – if you spent £10 on food here, we’d actually be worried. Penne, lasagne, and toasted sandwiches are strong points, and the breakfasts are better and cheaper than a lot of the local competition.