The explosion of neighbourhood restaurants over the past few years has been a delight. The idea of eating in central London now only feels like a good idea if you’re having lunch with an out of towner – or a south Londoner. Instead, we have been blessed with great local eateries.
Michelin has picked up on it. The 2017 guide saw multiple stars and even more Bib Gourmands go to restaurants out in zones two and three. Shoreditch now may as well be Covent Garden.
Perhaps it’s down to the hipsters’ desire for the authentic: locally sourced, local community, local food. Though it’s probably more basic than that: we’re all fed up with tourists and now we don’t need to be amongst them to eat well.
So when deciding on a restaurant to eat at on The Fringe’s birthday aka New Year’s Eve, Primeur in Canonbury was a perfect choice.
Primeur is on an unassuming but wide residential street that leads from Canonbury station up to Stoke Newington’s Clissold Park. There’s nothing else here. No tourists. No busy streets. Just a local community and local food.
Situated in an old converted garage, there are huge wide doors which can be opened fully in summer to let the already light dining room seem al fresco. By night, it becomes buzzy but not oversaturated. It’s noisy but not so loud you have to shout to be heard. And weirdly despite the fact you’re surrounded by other diners, you don’t often feel like you’re sat at someone else’s dinner table like you do so often with these communal dining experiences.
I’ve eaten here three times now. The first: a casual weekday dinner with a friend, saw us eat a selection of simply prepared seafood dishes each with a couple of complementing vegetables and a sauce. Washed down with a carafe of house red. The second: we drank a bottle of Cinsault, and ate salmon, ox tongue, pigeon and featherblade steak. By the time we’d finished eating I had decided this was a new favourite haunt in London.
And then we reach NYE. I’ve finally hit that age when going to a club until 4am doesn’t seem appealing. Nor does surrounding myself with dozens and dozens of people I don’t care for. But this was the first year I’d ever gone out for dinner.
Five is a brilliant number of diners to visit Primeur with. It meant we got to sample everything on the menu that took our fancy. In this case it meant we ate both chacuterie options (salame toscano and jamon de ternel), along with jersey oysters (fresh but asian style perhaps unnecessary), clams (with a white wine and garlic sauce which was mopped up with bread eagerly by everyone), smoked eel (whose beetroot brought out its flavour), and foie gras with spiced pear (rich, decadent and perfeclty balanced by the pear). There was no greater way to start a meal.
We preceded to eat each of the mains. I’m not a huge salmon fan but the others loved it. The spelt with red wine and treviso was a surprising winner amongst five solid meat eaters. But for me where Primeur really nails it is with their meat options. Pork belly and cheek, saddle of lamb, beef cheek. Tick, tick, tick. The lamb saddle’s spiced carrots and yogurt nod towards north Africa. The beef cheek felt like classical regional French at its best. And I’ve no idea the inspiration behind the two types of lamb with cabbage and apple sauce, but am forever thankful it happened.
Primeur is a new standard for me now. It joins the ranks of Miss Tapas or Artusi in Peckham, or the aforementioned Camberwell Arms. Food trends mostly annoy me, but neighbourhood restaurants like Primeur carry on emerging like this then London will be all the better for it. Brilliantly executed, simple food, considered and well sourced wines, and atmosphere without stifle. And not a tube station in sight.