I call it Kentish Town for convenience but the area I’m referring to also includes Tufnell Park and goes all the way to Hampstead Heath Park… let’s say roughly the NW5 postcode. And when I say the best I really mean it, I’ve lived here for 3 years, my first home in the UK and I would buy a house here immediately if I won the lottery. Even if “it depends which lottery mate, you might still be unable to afford it” as a friend of mine dryly argued.
Who doesn’t love parks? Green meadows, leafy trees, ponds and dogs running around, deliriously happy. Hampstead Heath has all of that, in such a wild degree to make it my favourite park in London. And not only: from the top of Parliament Hill you can enjoy one of the best views over London, while colourful kites are whizzing all around, and there are few ponds where to enjoy a cold bath on a warm day. My suggestion: go to the ponds located on the west side of the park (these ones), near Hampstead Heath Overground Station.
If you want to see London from a vantage point which is less crowded than Parliament Hill then head to Dartmouth Park. Although it lacks the charm of Hampstead Heath, in fact most of its surface is taken by a fenced reservoir tank, it offers a great view and a few quiet benches where to sit down and take it all in. But, hey, don’t tell anyone it’s a secret!
Why would you ever want to visit, let alone settling down in, an area without a good café? Fear not because Fortess road offers aplenty. Café Rustique (142 Fortess Rd, NW5 2HP)is an institution there, an arty literary café with a strong European vibe and a quiet garden at the back. They offer free wifi and a nice environment where to read or work on your computer while enjoying a cake or a quiche with a drink. Problem is that you probably aren’t the only one to have had that idea, so you might have to find another café where to sit.
One of my favourites is the viet bar Cardigan, acting both as a café and as a laid-back viet restaurant. I haven’t tried the food but the coffee and the uber-cool interiors are good enough for me to recommend it. Kitsch and chic paraphernalia, topped off with woolen sweaters hanging on the wall. In fact, according to the kentishtowner, the parents of the owner came to England to work in a cardigan factory. Sit at the shop window, next to the old typewriter to feel like a colonial journalist.
Update (15/09/14): Sad to hear that the Cardigan Café is now closed. I want to leave my little review and picture as a homage to that beauty of a place. However a new café has now opened: BEAR + WOLF. If you don’t mind the bright lights and the nursery feel, with euro-chic mums amiably chatting in French while kids occasionally cry in the cubroom under the hopeless look of a hapless father, their coffee and food are well worth a visit.
When I was living there I never ate out in the area, I was too skint and my kitchen was too close to justify spending money for food. Now that I’m happy to travel over two hours to get there. These are two good restaurants I tried out.
Lalibela (137 Fortess Rd, NW5 2HR) is a family-run Ethiopian restaurant: the mum is in the kitchen while son and daughter are waiting tables. The interiors are warm and cosy, the best tables are apparently on the upper floor, but we didn’t mind being sat in the “art gallery” surrounded by by a rich collection of African art. It was not the first time I tried Ethiopian food, and I know that if it’s not made with fresh ingredients it can keep me awake all night. This was not the case, tasty, spicy but well defined flavours…we went through a huge platter of injera topped with several kinds of meat and vegetables and I slept like a baby.
Nuraghe (12 Dartmouth Park Hill, NW5 1HL) is an Italian restaurant, one of those not waving the green-white-red outside but just quietly sitting rather hidden behind the Boston pub. Not the place to go for a pizza (go here instead) but great for the Sardinian specialities. If in doubt ask the chef!
I tried to be sophisticated with quirky cafes and ethnic food but we know that the quality of an area is judged by one and only one thing: its pubs. Kentish Town passes this test with top grades.
The Pinapple (51 Leverton St, NW5 2NX) is a beautiful pub concealed in the pastel-coloured Leverton Street, listed in the CAMRA pubs and offering a selection of and Thai food (which, though, became a bit too expensive lately). There is a garden for summer, a covered terrace for when it’s not quite warm yet, and a fireplace. What else would you need?
When it comes to beer tasting nothing beats the Southampton arms (139 Highgate Road NW5 1LE), not in London at least…or so I think. They opened in 2009 but nothing they did to change the locale, preserving its authentic aspect and traditional atmosphere. Featuring 12 beers and 6 ciders (roughly) they proudly serve only products from small independent UK breweries. When they started – as the manager Ash told me while handing me the 12th glass of the night – they were struggling to find enough interesting beers to feed 6 taps, now they tripled the number and they are struggling to decide which ones to choose. Which is a good problem to have. If this is not enough to convince you they also have a small beer garden, live music on a piano a couple of times a week and great honest food, mainly meaty but also a very good veggie scotch egg.
If you’re after a bit of action then you should head to Aces’n’Eights (156-158 Fortess Rd, NW5 2HP), one of the best rock bars in North London. Bras hanging from the ceiling music poster all over the place and, obviously, solid rock’n’roll. They also serve pizza and have regular live gigs and comedy nights. Only downside is that the beer is a bit expensive but it’s a great place for a rowdy night out.
Check out my other favourite areas in London.