Wednesday, 26 March 2014

500: Archway's neighbourhood Italian restaurant

I love going back to my old neighbourhoods. Before I moved Hackney way four years ago I did most of my grown up London living around Tufnell Park, Kentish Town and Holloway. It was a very different London then, and most my eating out was done in long-standing neighbourhood restaurants serving up authentic, affordable food from around the world, brought to North London via successive waves of immigration. We were particularly well served by Ethiopian restaurants, old school Italian joints, north African cous cous, and Greek tavernas. Even the mid-range chains hadn't sprawled in.

When 500 opened on Holloway Road in 2008, right by the Archway gyratory, it was the first of its kind in this part of London. An upscale Italian neighbourhood bistro on a grimy patch of the A1. By now that's pretty much a formula for success, but it was a bold move that paid off.  Six years it opened, it was still jam-packed on a cold Monday evening with all those nice older middle class public sector worker types you get around there.

I went a couple of times back then and had lovely meals, and went again this week to take a friend who'd recently moved into the area. 

We had their signature deep fried ravioli filled with pecorino and mint, which could have had a bit more filling, but were bursting with intense flavours. A selection of breads were thrown in gratis, including an excellent black olive focaccia and moreish crisp bread. We also had some burrata (tasty) which came with thinly cut and dressed raw artichoke (not too exciting).

We both had another old favourite for mains: a portion of fresh gnocchi with sausage ragout. The gnocchi was so light and fluffy, and each piece just melted in your mouth. The ragout was good too, although for £11.50 the portion felt a little on the small side. There are bigger mains - marsala stewed rabbit, big rich meat dishes, that clock in at around £15.

The tiramisu was one of the best I've had, and I've had more than most. It was a gigantic slab, could have easily fed two, but happily it was all for me. Light and fluffy on the top and simple coffee soaked base.

Service was friendly and efficient, and despite being completely full, there was no hurrying, no upselling to maximise our value. The menu has changed little in the six years its been open, save for a few seasonal specials, and the d├ęcor is beginning to look a little worn, but the food is still mostly super, and so the punters keep coming back.

With a fancy-looking neighbourhood Italian restaurant just opened in Clapton (not even selling pizza!), E5 may also have that special kind of neighbourhood Italian too. I certainly hope it is, and hope it stays steady like 500. It's nice to have some classics amidst all the ephemeral and novel.

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