Neatly tucked away behind the ever more commercial Islington High Street, just before the split at Islington Green, where the road veers off onto Essex Road, lies the obscenely picturesque Camden Passage.
The narrow cobbled streets, overlooked by antique shops, cafes and toyshops is nothing new to a guy, brimming with N1 knowledge. However, if you are discovering N1 for the first time, you may have heard whispers of this unspoilt crevice, but have no idea where to find it or what treats await.
From Wednesday through to Sunday, colourful characters slowly infiltrate the empty spaces dotted around, so by Saturday, there is a full and flourishing antiques market (previously housed in the stunning building now entirely utilised by Jack Wills) selling everything from carpets, jewellery and trinkets, to trumpets and general memorabilia from the past century.
The real gem though isn’t found on a piece of costume jewellery or on a snuff tin from the thirties. Neatly in line with the rest and opposite an exquisite (arguably overpriced) vintage shop lays Elk In The Woods.
The bold black exterior with its white italic lettering suspended above prominent panes of glass, exposing the warming wooden interior is enough to slow your walk to a virtual stop, forcing you to examine within and potentially study the menu. On a Sunny day, tables line up in uniform outside, spied on by hanging baskets. To sit with a coffee (Monmouth naturally) and watch the world pass you by is as Parisian an experience as you can have, without going there yourself.
As you enter, you are surrounded by weathered wood, not just on the floor, but growing up the walls to the ceiling, the equivalent to a full denim outfit, unfashionable one minute, trendy the next. It just so happens that this works perfectly. A mixture of wooden, fabric and leather bound chairs fit neatly in the two sections divided by a small walkway where you can find a menu of the ever changing and always-popular “specials” board. But what of the Elk? Well, he is definitely long gone by now, but his head sits as a gentle reminder of his existence, prominently hanging with many smaller skull like friends. This strange starkness has an odd comfort and charm, only adding to the experience.
That’s all very well and good, but what of the food? Classic British cuisine dominates here, with a touch of European flare thrown in for good measure. From a full English to duck eggs and asparagus for breakfast, pate with caramelised onion to feta and broad bean mash on the smalls, steak to bacon sarnies for the breaded option, and a range of mainly meat inspired mains. In all honesty, this isn’t the most vegetarian friendly eatery, but there will be enough choice to keep them salivating.
There is a good selection of drinks, with speciality lagers on tap. An extensive wine list will be sure to keep the grape enthusiast happy, whilst people that fancy something a touch more fun will have a list of inspired cocktails to deliberate over.
There have been reviews out there, complaining about lacklustre service. These must be rubbished straight away. Run by a very friendly young couple, the staff are warm and attentive, and nothing is too difficult. It would be rare however to send something back. Always cooked to perfection and on time, if the meal were to take a while, they would inform you upon ordering.
If it is a weekday from nine through till five you shouldn’t have a problem getting a seat, inside or out. However, it is best to book in the evening and at the weekend, as it gets most busy indeed.
Keep reading weekly, where we will uncover more of N1’s finest restaurants, bars and cafes.