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Tuesday 17 February 2015

Kilburn Ironworks - Ladies & Gentlemen - Knowhere Special - Hook Camden

I had an efficient few days gallivanting around North London back in January. Then I didn't write it up for over a month for some reason.  And here we are.

Scroll down for local brews at Kilburn Ironworks, toilet booze at Ladies & Gentlemen, cosy caves at Knowhere Special, and funky fish and chips at Hook Camden.

Saturday 12th January - It was first announced that a Jimi Pearce & Will Partridge Wax Jambu sequel was imminent way back in late 2013, but locals had to wait another year for neighbourhood hangout Kilburn Ironworks to finally arrive.  Was it worth the wait?

Absolutely. They have transformed the awkward long and thin room into a welcoming, cosy lodge with smart lighting and an eye-catching drinks station (complete with fire extinguisher taps). There's a great spirits selection, a wide range of top beers (with London breweries featuring heavily), a quirky list of £8 shandies and cocktails, and an enticing food menu.

The standout cocktail was the Malt Merchant - Monkey Shoulder, toasted porter reduction and lemon, topped up with Anspach & Hobday Smoked Brown with a Gosling’s Black Seal Rum float. The spirits-focused Stoke Me A Clipper was also a winner - Four Roses Bourbon, Pedro Ximenez, Cocchi Americano and Marca Negra Mezcal, served straight up.  Two good reasons to sign up for their cocktail school which starts at around £20 per person for groups of 8+.

Camden & Meantime aren't the most exciting draught beer options these days, but Beavertown keeps things interesting.  There's also a strong bottle list that includes brews from Pressure Drop, Weird Beard and Hammerton.

Jason conducting with a beer

Stoke Me A Clipper - Bourbon, Sherry, Vermouth, Mezcal

Malt Merchant - Whisky, Porter Reduction, Lemon, A&H Smoked Brown, Dark Rum

The kitchen wasn't up and running when we visited but they did have the magnificent Pig & Hay scotch eggs on offer (which are still on the menu).  One of those bad boys and a Kernel IPA will only set you back £7.  A return trip is in order to try some of this lot:

- Smog Rocket Toasted Porter Welsh Rarebit - £5
- Braised Squid & Calabrian Sausage - £7.50
- Razor Clams with Chorizo, Chilli & Garlic - £8.50
- Welsh Wagyu Beef Burger - £12/17
- Flat Iron Steak - £10

Plus optional sauces including Mezcal Horseradish Cream and Islay Whisky Peppercorn!

Pig & Hay Scotch Egg

A surefire hit on Kilburn High Road - check it out.

We swapped Kilburn for Kentish Town in search of a few more drinks, with Ladies & Gentlemen in our sights.  Being a Saturday night (note to self: stay in on weekends), it was rammed at 9pm, as was the nearby Knowhere Special (more on that later), so we killed some time in The Assembly House pub which turned out to be rather charming.  

If it's a public house you are looking for around Kentish Town, then you should definitely check out The Southampton Arms for all the ales, The Colonel Fawcett for gin and outstanding Sunday roasts, and Tapping The Admiral to meet Nelson the pub cat.  And of course there's the Camden Town Brewery Bar which always has top street food traders in the courtyard.

Anyway, I digress.  We eventually made it into Ladies & Gentlemen for a drink towards the end of the evening, and then again the following Wednesday to do it justice.  It's the latest bar to refurbish public toilets, following on from the likes of Bermondsey Arts Club and WC Clapham. William Borrell of Vestal Vodka is the brains behind this bog-boozer, and he and his team have built a lively and friendly bar in a small space that already seems to be a huge hit with the locals (dogs included!).

Arrive early if you want to grab one of the front row seats next to their 16 litre copper alembic still (out of action on our visit), though be prepared for it to get pretty crowded behind you at times. You'll find Manager Steve keeping an eye on the room whilst Fraser and Leah hold court behind the bar.

You might like to start with their opposing Ladies & Gents Old Fashioned twists, or a Rhubarb & Custard (served in a classic Bird's Custard tin), but we went mostly off-menu during both of our stays.  I'm going to drop back in for a proper look at their set cocktail list once they've had a little more time to settle down and feature some Vestal.

Leah made me two impressive Vestal Vodka-based drinks that will probably find their way on to the menu soon - a serious Martini-style Spring Demon, and an un-named Vestal Kazebe & Ilegal Mezcal duet. Fraser came up trumps with a delightful Calvados number that we labelled Hidden Depths due to its clever use of Sloe Gin and Dry Vermouth.  Both also dealt well with some of our more left-field demands - "Something loving, insightful and mentally unstable please!".

Ladies & Gentlemen is the kind of bar that you never want to leave.  Be sure to have a taste of the Vestal Vodka range whilst you are there - you will be pleasantly surprised!  If they get themselves a proper late licence, I'll be making many more trips up North.  Bring on the 24 hour tubes!

Square Meal

Wednesday 7th January - After a spot of fish and chips (see below) and before a trip to the loo (see above), we had a second go at getting in to Knowhere Special.  This was following a failed attempt on a busy Saturday evening when a brusque DJ/doorman hybrid wouldn't grant us access.  Weekends are the worst.  It was much more pleasant on a Wednesday, and we had the bar to ourselves to start with.

Blink and you'll miss Knowhere Special.  That little doorway inbetween The Assembly House and the sadly now shut Kentish Canteen (soon to become Joe's Southern Kitchen) - that's what you are looking for.  Walk through the colourful corridor and down some stairs, and you will be rewarded with a stunning little bar, full of oddments and magical lighting.

The corridor! Clever mirror shot? Nope. Just Ella Paskett doing her thing.
The front room is beautifully lit, particularly the bar, but you will find it hard to resist sitting in one of their converted prison cell alcoves.  Take your pick from the Garden (complete with gnomes), Bedroom and Kitchen caves.  There is a slight sacrifice on bar atmosphere in these cosy corners, but they are great if you are in a group.

They have a long list of classic cocktails to choose from, but on your first visit you really have to dive in to their special house drinks selection.  Each creation has been paired with a snack ranging from the mysterious ("An Autumn scene gives you a view") to the self explanatory ("A handful of bitter-spiced nuts to go with that").  This unsurprisingly bumps prices up around the £11-13 mark which is fairly pricey for the area, but worth indulging in.  And that we did:

- Friars Luck - House spiced rum, benedictine, yellow chartreuse, burnt orange peel & a hint of frankincense - with toffee apples and some salt chocolate - £11

- Ramble On...  - Pink peppercorn infused vodka, Zubrowka bison grass vodka, fresh lime, apple syrup, dry vermouth and bitters - with blackberry crumble - £11

- That's A Peach... Almost - Bourbon, lemon juice, fresh barbecued spiced peach puree, marigold syrup - with spiced almond milk and cookies - £10.50

- Choc On The Bay - Brokers Gin, stirred with dry vermouth and toasted cardamom pods, finished with a bay leaf and chocolate syrup - with a zesty lemon cheesecake - £11.50

Ramble on... with blackberry crumble

Friars Luck with toffee apples and salt chocolate

That's A Peach...Almost with almond milk and cookies

All four were a great success, and I really appreciated my strong and complex Choc On The Bay with subtle hints of cardamom and chocolate coming through.  That's A Peach...Almost worked well both with and without the spiced almond milk; the clever use of a water glass allowed for a bit of taste testing before committing to mixing it all in.

We didn't order the much-talked about Park Bench cocktail which is presented in a brown paper bag, and served in a Strongbow Can, with a sausage roll on the side.  They basically reduce Strongbow to the bare minimum, and then build it back up in to their own take on cider with Apple Brandy, Poire William Eau de Vie, House Syrup & Fizz.  One to go back for.

Oh, and they sell Curly Wurly Bars (80p), Pickled Onion Space Raiders (20p), and Salt & Vinegar Squares (70p). Sold.

Not a cocktail...

...but a candle

Square Meal

Matt The Tip - You should probably get some food to go with all of those Kentish Town cocktails. Book in advance for the tiny but perfectly formed Anima E Cuore, or try for Shoe Shop nearer Tufnell Park.  There's always the Soho House group Holy Trinity of Pizza East, Dirty Burger and Chicken Shop if the first two don't take your fancy.  

For all things Kentish Town, you should really refer to Kentish Towner.

Last but not last (not a typo), before all the Kentish Town cocktails (scroll up), we met up in Camden for some unconventional fish and chips at Hook Camden.

Now, stay with me here.  Barry and Simon started doing the fish and chips thing on a stall in Dublin in 2011. Then they opened up a full restaurant in Brussels called Bia Mara (Irish for seafood) where Belgian beer played an important part.  And now they have landed in London, except they can't call it Bia Mara here for whatever reason, so Hook it is. 

Camden is hopefully just the first of many (Brixton could be next) for the Hook boys.  Their new school fish and chips may upset the odd purist, but anyone who doesn't want to try Ethiopian Berbere Spiced Pollock can head elsewhere.

Still here? Good. You made the right choice.  Hook Camden is a belter.  I obviously went for the special Ethiopian Berbere Spiced Pollock with Sweet Potato Ketchup - for £12.  Sauces are a big deal there, and each fish is paired with one (which you can swap out for something else of course),.Every order also receives an epic portion of Seaweed Salted Chips.   

On top of that, we attempted to finish Classic Panko Crusted Cod, Cajun Spiced Panko Red Gurnard, and Thai Green Tempura of Seabream, all with a load more Seaweed Salted Chips and all the sauces for £10 each. I'm talking Homemade Tartar, Garlic Truffle, Lemon & Basil, Lemon Cajun, Chipotle and more.  It's all great stuff - beautifully cooked Flying Fish Seafood with a range of seasoning in either Panko (Breadcrumbs) or Tempura (Light Batter).  

The sauces do threaten to steal the show and mask the fishy flavours every now and then, so go easy. It's a marathon, not a sprint.  For a tenner all in, it doesn't really matter if you don't finish everything, though by the looks of it the Red Gurnard might be a tad pissed off.

Do not mess with the Red Gurnard

All the Seaweed Salted Chips

Cajun Spiced Panko Red Gurnard

Ethiopian Berbere Spiced Pollock with Sweet Potato Ketchup

If you don't fancy fish (what are you doing there?), then there are two panko chicken options, and a veggie-friendly main course of parmesan and mozzarella arancini (sadly not available as a side). Speaking of sides, we can vouch for the refreshing Sea Spaghetti & Samphire Citron Salad which provided much needed balance, and the classic Minty Mushy Peas (hard to resist).

The beer list may expand soon, but for now you should be able to get by with a couple of Brixton Brewery bottles or Brasserie de la Senne's Taras Boulba.

Brixton Brewery Electric I.P.A. at Hook Camden

Barry mentioned some bonkers sounding daytime disco brunch party plans but I await further details. Keep your ears to the ground.  In the meantime, get down to Hook Camden before everyone realises how fantastic it is.  You won't leave hungry.

For more ideas, check out this recent Londonist post on the Capital's finest fish and chips

Square Meal

Hook on Urbanspoon

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