Ottolenghi always a good takeaway choice with it's fantastic Middle Eastern inspired salads and La Farola, just a few doors up, serving well made Spanish classics. I was however yet to discover a truly extraordinary restaurant in the area. That changed after a recent visit to newly opened Oldroyd.
Located by the picturesque Camden Passage, it may look like an unassuming bistro from the outside and is tiny on the inside but the food served here is truly outstanding modern European fare at prices that you won't quite believe. I have to admit expectations of the place weren't exactly low before my visit. Never one to head to a new restaurant unprepared I did some research before and discovered the high pedigree of the owner here. I had in fact met Tom Oldroyd, the man behind it all, by chance a few years prior during his time as head chef at famous Venetian inspired London restaurant emporium Polpo. There, with owner Russell Norman, he helped drive the small plate and flavour led dining revolution that this city went through 4 or 5 years ago and irrevocably changed the restaurant scene forever and with also fundamentally helped improved London's global culinary reputation. Bearing in mind this level of experience then, his own venture, aptly named Oldroyd, was never going to serve bland or boring food and luckily only managed to exceed my already high exceptions.
The food served here, part of a seasonally changing and deliberately short menu, is best enjoyed shared and takes its inspiration from all around Europe in a sophisticated and effortless fashion. I dined with three meat eaters so can't vouch for their dishes but everything I sampled (altogether we had around 7 or 8 dishes ranging from £3 to £16 in price) was absolutely flawless in terms of it's flavour and preparation and of a fine dining quality without the price tags. Every small detail matters here - from the exceptional sourdough served with a big slab of rather incredible anchovy butter to the fine slivers of gravadlax accompanied by shavings of pickled beetroot and turnip that made it almost too beautiful to eat but too bloody delicious when we eventually did. A pungent truffle mayonnaise came dolloped next to crispy wild mushroom croquettes that were far from a mere veggie friendly afterthought, the same true for an outstanding dish of spinach malfetti (a sort of gnocchi like spinach and dough balls) that came served with a mushroom and crispy sage sauce and proved as satisfying and comforting as any meat dish. The real, and for me rather unexpected, highlight of the meal however was the prawn, fennel and saffron risotto topped with gremolata. Far from being the bland and gloopy mountain of rice I usually associate with risotto, this was a silky, rich and smooth, a delicate marriage of flavours where every mouthful proved an absolute delight.
Yes Oldroyd isn't perfect- as mentioned before it is a tiny place, in fact minute to the point where you are likely to elbow your dining companion in the face as you fight over who gets the last spoonful of risotto and with the open kitchen tucked away in a corner of the ground floor room you may break a sweat or two BUT for me this really only adds to the magic of Oldroyd. Here it is all about exceptional and genuine cooking by a man that has put all of his passion and knowledge into his very own place, a step that is more than brave in a London restaurant scene dominated by chains, and if indeed you are able to score a reservation for one of his tables here should make you feel very lucky to experience exactly this, with minor imperfections and all. Would you want to eat this kind of food at double the price in a shiny and sterile space on some fancy Central London street? I certainly wouldn't which makes Oldroyd such a true local gem- cosy, unpretentious, affordable and most importantly bloody damn good to the point where you don't really want to to tell your friends about it knowing how few tables are there. Well done Mr Oldroyd and welcome to my favourite (and now even better) neighbourhood.