"It's not much but it's ours"

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


I don't go to Camden that often.

The last time I can remember, bar a trip to see a customer and a trip to see Michael Moore wheel out his tired old Schtick a couple of years ago at the Roundhouse, was about 15 years ago and it still makes my toes curl.

I had just split up from my wife and was wallowing, as only I know how, in self pity. Rarely leaving the house apart from work and over indulging in both booze and dope. My next door neighbours were two gay women called Sue and Helen. I remember them with great fondness as Helen was a police woman had access to the most amazing skunkweed which was known amongs the force as, The Supergrass.

One night, they decided I needed a night out and they dragged me out clubbing with them to Camden at a gay pub/cabaret bar called The Black Cap ( still there if you see my picture ) to hang out with a group of lesbian friends of theirs. During the night, one of the gang thought it would be a damn funny thing to slip the straight guy a mickey. Let's just say, I have no recollection at all of that night until I woke up the next day safe and sound in my own bed. Thankfully with all orifices at their natural appeture. However, they did produce a polaroid to support their claim that I had spent a great deal of the evening dancing, shirtless and singing "gimme gimme a man after midnight" with a gentleman called Toby. Oh dear, Oh dear

So Camden has, er odd memories for me.

Tonight, my good chum, Nick invited me to supper and suggested Les Mignon in Camden. I decided to head up there a bit early and see how that bit of North London was looking.

Well, still as grim as ever. Filled with people offering "smoke" and "rock" I was actually surprised how many places to eat there were. Mind you, as someone, probably me, once said to me about Camden " I guess pimps, hookers, crackheads and navvys have to eat too"

First of all, I headed up to Chalk Farm and to Marine Ices. Officially the best ice cream in London, it has been around for decades. Even though it was freezing and raining buckets, I just had to have a cone of vanilla to start my evening. Then, after a pint in AN Other horrible pub, I arrived at Les Mignon at a little after 7pm just before Nick. If there is a more unprepossesing restaurant in the whole world ( bar the sublime Kebab Cafe in Astoria, NYC ) I have yet to see it. On the corner of Delancey St and Arlington St, it was covered in Scaffolding and with a frontage that made it look like a bad Camberwell steakhouse of the 1970's. Inside, however, it was clean and tidy, welcoming and the service was immediate and suitably gruff.

Nick arrived soon after as I was enjoying a beer and we decided to concentrate on the starters to comprise our meal. Nick left it to me to order and we were soon chomping merrily on

Fattoush- a salad of mixed vegetables and herbs mixed with toasted bread and garlic
Labneh - Yoghurt with Olive Oil
Bamieh Biziat - Okra with tomatoes Onion and Corriander
Foul Moudamas - Fava beans with lemon, garlic and olive oil
Kibby - small parcels of ground lamb in a crushed wheat casing
Sawda Dajaj - Chicken Livers with garlic

Each dish was fresh and well prepared and the portions were very large indeed. If we had any intention of moving on to main courses, they were soon knocked aside by the size of the starters. The fattoush and the kibby were the stars for me. Both very good examples.

We drank a bottle of Musar 1997 @ £26 with this which was suitably robust and the meal was followed by some coffee and some excellent mint tea and decent baclava.

I was treated to supper. A rare thing. So, I cannot tell you how much the bill was. I would guess about £60 something for two. I can tell you that it was all well worth trying and, for a restaurant in such an unlikely area, a bit of a find ( to me at least, I am sure it is well known as a neighbourhood joint )

The owner told me that he is about to publish a book with Kyle Cathie, one of our competitors. All I can say is that they are lucky to have him.

So, heading down to Camden to pick up a "bit of Leb" may take on a whole new meaning
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is it about Camden that makes me think Socialist Workers Party? My earliest memories of being bought a cone of perfect Marine Ice cream by my father, Chalk Farm and Camden conjures up faded colours, peeling paint, dilapidation and the afore mentioned Skiving Whingers Pack. Hazy seventies Sundays spent at The Round House (remember Implosion and Jeff Dexter?) slowly going comatose to the sounds of Savoy Brown, Brinsley Schwarz & Yes are replayed with the odour of mildew and Henna never far away.

So how surprised was I to visit this part of North London 35 years later and find nothing changed except the traffic direction? But wait - what friendly light yonder beckons? Tis a Lebanese hostelry that even though clad in scaffold sends out a signal to all London life – come in, relax and partake of good food and hospitality. My good friend Simon and I enjoyed a colourful, well presented, fresh tasting range of delightful food (all from the Hot Starters menu) with a very passable local beer and a bottle of Musar '97 from the Bekaa Valley that probably needed more time in the cellar. The kibby was the best I’ve had – anywhere! Nothing was boring and the décor clean and welcoming. With no muzak and perfect Lebanese coffee to finish, this could help change my perception of Camden forever. Then again…
Thanks guys - we’ll be back.
And, happy birthday, Simon!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006 12:07:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I wonder what the new Lebanese just off Brick Lane is like. Its called the Lebanese Lounge in Hanbury Street.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006 9:29:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Lebanese lounge is awful. They seem to have taken their lead from the surrounding curry houses by serving oddly coloured food of doubtful provenance.

Readers should be warned that Le Mignon is alarmingly erratic. I once had one of the best Lebanese meals there ever. I went back the next week and it was terrible. The spatch-cocked quail tasted like it had been run over.

Perhaps the cook was drunk.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007 6:50:00 pm  

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