Monday, December 24, 2007

St John, N19 - best ailoi in Archway

We are very lucky to live within about a 15minute walk of literally dozens of great restaurants. The downside though is that it's all too easy not to discover what delights (or otherwise!) lie further afield. So the invitation to deepest, darkest Archway for some live music sounded like the beginning of adventure. We stumbled upon a corner of Ireland in the middle of North London. In the Lion pub, a man was belting out melancholy songs and strumming his guitar while old, weather-worn men and women nodded along, sipped their pints of Guinness and got lost in reveries of days gone by. The slightly younger customers were more cheerful, stomping out an energetic jig in the corner. Equally character-full Irish folk looked on from slightly caricaturised, faded paintings on the dark walls. The penalty you pay for living in central London is that you'll never get a gem like this as your local. (And while it may not offer any interesting beers, the other advantage of not being in central London is that it's cheap - I paid £11 for three pints and a large wine.)
As the food on offer at the Lion didn't seem to stretch beyond mini cheddars and bacon flavoured fries, we were reluctantly forced to leave in search of sustenance. With unusual foresight, I had looked the area up in my Harden's guide and had discovered that there was a well-reputed gastro joint just round the corner called St. John. Here too the drinks de jour were whiskey and Guinness, although there were also a couple of real ales on tap and the crowd was much younger. From the chalkboard menu, the leg of lamb came with all the trimmings you would expect in a generous roast, as well as a highly-rated onion sauce. The roast half of chicken with a peppercorn jus was also amply sized and beautifully juicy. I opted for the mussels with chorizo and onions, the salty sausage contrasting well with the tender crustaceans. The highlight of the meal though was the aioli. It was proffered when I asked for some mayo to go with the delightfully crispy home-made chips. It packed a serious punch of garlic and tasted freshly made. We got through two pots. It was heaven, and worth the trek to Archway in its own right.

St John, 91 Junction Rd, N19 5QU; Tel. 020 7272 1587. The Lion public house (also known as Sweeneys), 1 Junction Road N19 5QT. Tube (for both): Archway

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