Oldroyd. Local Hero.
Think about your dream neighbourhood restaurant. It would have a chef-owner who spends real time in the kitchen. It would be around the corner, so that you could stagger home, if and when necessary. They would know your name, so that when you called they would always manage to squeeze you in. The food would be fresh, simple, seasonal, but not overly so and cooked from the heart. Front of house would all have real personalities. It goes without saying that it would be sensibly priced.
If, like me, you live in the dining dead space that is Paddington, then this restaurant is merely a dream, but if you’re fortunate enough to live near to the new Nirvana that is N1, welcome to your new home.
Oldroyd is small and intimate and so good that you may not want to tell anyone about it. You can shout it from the rooftops though, as it has already been proclaimed the new Messiah. This being London though, I expect the backlash will start at any moment. Too much praise can be as damning as too little.
On an unlovely bit of Upper Street, there are only a few tables on the ground floor and a slightly larger dining room upstairs. Tip: ask to sit on one of the tables upstairs, in front of the window, especially if you don’t like rubbing up against your neighbours.
The kitchen operates from under the stairs and I have no idea how four of them work in there without killing each other. Every inch of this warm, noisy and intimate space has a specific function but the prime one is clearly to feed you well and make you happy.
Having been for lunch (with T, who already has her own table ) and dinner I would recommend a leisurely afternoon slot, as there may be fewer people to contend with. Dinner is a little more lively and frenetic, the doll’s-house kitchen working at full tilt to churn out all those croquettes and courgette fritters.
And before you start, check out the cocktails. I’ve noticed a move recently towards homemade cocktail ingredients and Oldroyd is bang on trend. Exceptionally good, I’d recommend you kick off with a gin and tonic.
The menu is short and sweet. Between three of us we order a good proportion of it and I suggest you come in as a group but no more than four (the space issue) and share your plates.
Fat mazzancolle prawns with lemon, garlic and parsley gremolata are devoured without a second’s pause. We all suck the heads. I’m sorry, it’s the law. D and I hoover up the smoked pork belly and pea croquettas with truffle mayonnaise. D suggests that we try to keep the mayonnaise for the fried courgettes. We try. The croquettas are, apparently a best seller. I’m not surprised. Let’s hope they stay on the menu FOR EVER.
Excellent Cornish crab tagliarini provençal comes in a mound surrounded by rich, creamy sauce and a brown crab rouille. Every strand is cleared from the plate. The lamb and almond meatballs in their rich romesco sauce are so good I want to lick the plate. Two portions of the excellent zucchini fritti fill the carb spot quite nicely. We don’t even pretend that one portion will cut it. D is right about the mayonnaise.
A girolle, Berkswell cheese and cobnut risotto is made more interesting by the addition of the raw nuts. It’s my least favourite and I feel it needs some salt.
The surprise hit is the late summer squash, roasted, served with shaved kohlrabi and cow curd and bold, peppery salad leaves. The dressing is grainy, as if the cheese has been stirred through it so that it coats the squash and the leaves like a proper Caesar’s dressing. And I don’t mean that gloopy abomination that we often have to contend with, even in good restaurants.
I rarely order Caesar’s, having been spoilt by the Alastair Little recipe, which I have relied upon since the beginning of time and which makes most others a disappointment. You can get it in his classic book “Keep it Simple,” currently starring on Amazon for £0.01 and which is proof, if ever needed, that cheap doesn’t always mean nasty.
We finish with desserts from our childhood, a chocolate mousse and a fruit crumble. Except they’ve been given an adult makeover by the addition of salted pistachio praline and fresh raspberries for the mousse and a distinct lack of sugar in the crumble. I could live without the raspberries. Fresh fruit and chocolate doesn’t work for me; I believe in the separation of powers.
Judgement: I really like Oldroyd and I wish it was in my neighbourhood. It’s part of the (decent) restaurant regeneration of Islington, what with King and Corbyn about to hit and The Canonbury Tavern going great guns and I’m quite sorry I don’t live there anymore. You can tell it’s a passion project for Tom Oldroyd, previously head chef at Polpo and whilst you can see some Polpo influences, (small plates, simple concept, meatballs) this has its own identity. Restaurants like this can change the feel of an area and bring in their wake other like-minded operators. I know another area that needs an Oldroyd. Tom, are you listening?