What makes a good local restaurant?
Of course it needs to be quick to get to and from. Somewhere within 15 minutes easy travel, perhaps? Yes, it needs to be good value and affordable too. Not just for an occasional meal but for repeat and possibly regular visits. And you need to feel at ease when there; the room should (surely) be relaxed, enjoyable and run by friendly faces that quickly become familiar.
What else? Well, the food should be good, obviously, but I reckon it should also be varied and interesting. It’s great to have favourite dishes to return to, but favourites can quickly become boring, so menus should change regularly and have enough dishes on there that you’d never cook at home.
I also think that a good local restaurant is one that’s multi-purpose. It’s somewhere that suits special occasions and informal ones, one that’s as good for a quick bite as it is for a three hour, four course, four bottle, aperitif, digestif, one last drink on the rocks for the road, leave after the staff have cashed up and have made it more than obvious that you’ve outstayed your welcome kind of evening.
Above all of these things, though, I reckon (perhaps confusingly) that a good local is actually somewhere worth travelling to. You need to be able to confidently force others all the way to your backyard. More importantly, you want to be able to gloat about it.
Some great examples of this genre are places like ToastED (East Dulwich), Brawn (Columbia Rd), Mayfields (London Fields, RIP), Morito (Exmouth Market). I’m sure there are many more and you hopefully have your own favourite(s). But definitely add Oldroyd (Islington) to the list.
I’m an N1 resident, so this is as much of a gleeful bray as it is a helpful hint, but I was so pleased to have an absolutely cracking first of many meals at Oldroyd last week. Squeezed into a former sandwich shop at the Angel end of Upper Street, the eponymous restaurant of the former chef-director of Polpo, Tom Oldroyd, is all of the things I mentioned above.
It’s certainly good value and by London standards is well priced. The dishes (small plates that’d work equally well for sharing or individual eating) sit between £4 and £15, food spend for three courses is probably £30-35 per person and there are a good clutch of wines on the list in the low £20s.
It ticks the relaxed and enjoyable boxes too, for whilst spacious is not a word anyone will ever use for the site, it is stylish and comfortable. We enjoyed top service from a young front of house team who won’t get pigeonholed into any descriptor save ‘normal’.
Then there’s the food. The only thing I thought I knew about the menu before going was that it would necessarily be limited by the tiny kitchen. I suppose my expectations were fairly low.
Out of that minuscule space, though, came perfect pea and smoked pig belly croquettes and a truffle mayonnaise; soft, slightly spiced, lamb and almond meatballs; a cured veal tonnato with smoked anchovies, which was sweet, salty, tinny, tangy, smokey – a riot of texture and taste; a perfectly tender squid and soft confit rabbit paella with broad beens and a blob of aioli – perhaps not a proper crusted paella but a stellar rice dish nonetheless; and my favourite eat of the evening, a crusted, juicy, savoury pork rib eye steak on comforting borlotti beans and chard, all lifted by a hazlenut pistou. Each dish was properly cooked and seasoned, packed with well balanced and considered flavours, and something I’d order again … once I’ve worked through the rest of the menu.
It’s been written already and it’ll be written again, but Oldroyd reminds me of the early days of Polpetto when it sat above the French House in Soho. Comparisons come easy because of the small upstairs dining room and Tom’s Polpo past. But it’s also the eclectic European influenced food (French, Italian, Spanish, modern British, not so much Greek), the common bond between the menu items simply being a ‘this’ll taste nice and I’d quite like to cook and serve it’ ethos.
So, Oldroyd: a top little local restaurant and one worth travelling to. Welcome to the neighbourhood.
Oldroyd in 3 words
Cute. Modern. Local.
oldroydlondon.com – 344 Upper Street, N1 0PD – 020 8617 9010