Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

The Somers Town Coffee House is on Chalton Street in NW1, just off the Euston Road, on the edge of Somers Town. It should be easy to get to but somehow isn't. I think it might be my two companions, who navigate while I drive and are entirely useless. I accept that I am a hopeless navigator -- the only time my partner ever punched me was when we ended up literally hundreds of miles from our destination because I was holding a map of the wrong country upside-down, and I did not blame him at all -- but still. 'Should I make a left here?' I ask. 'Yes, ' they say. 'But it doesn't look as if we want to go that way, ' I add.

'Better not, then, ' they say. Although I don't want to let them off the hook entirely (because where is the fun in that? ) it doesn't help that Somers Town is full of strange dead-ends and no going this way or no going that way as not marked in the A-Z. We are trapped in Somers Town, unable to find either Chalton Street or a way out, for a good 40 minutes. I do not recommend it.

Somers Town. It sounds like a lovely kind of place; the kind of place you might want to sing about in a slow, jazzy, Gershwinish kind of way -- 'Somers Town, and the livin' is easy. . .'--but it is not. It is not that kind of a place at all. Somers Town is that area behind Euston and King's Cross, that vast council estate bounded by the railway tracks, shadowed by the old railway gas meters, with razor wire everywhere and gangs of hoodies on almost every corner. Now, I do not believe that all hoodies are evil thugs just waiting to bash you over the head for your mobile, or that they are responsible for all that is wrong in the world today (global warming? It's all the heat generated by the ears of teenage boys wearing caps and hoods) but I am not that fond of them either.

My son was recently hoodied at the bus stop where they stripped him of everything, including his anti-bullying wristband, the bastards. Anyway, this, I would say, is the Somers Town where the livin' ain't easy and the junkies are higher than cotton can ever be. I worry about this, just as I worry about the people who have to live here, but mostly I worry because I can't see a good lunch in it.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. If I were you, I'd stick with me for this ride: just make sure your car doors are locked from the inside.

Eventually we do get back on the Euston Road, where we decide to park on the opposite side to Somers Town and walk back to Chalton Street. This end of Chalton Street is not too scary, being round the corner from the British Library at St Pancras, which suggests A Better Class of Person, but I still enter the Somers Town Coffee House, which is actually a pub in a Grade II listed building, with some trepidation. I'm not sure what I'm expecting exactly. That I might have to punch a path through crack whores? But the moment I step inside, I fall totally head over heels in love with the place. It's fresh, it's clean, it still has the old fireplaces, windows and original dark wooden floors and panelling, but more than that, it feels so damned gutsy, which it is.

The new owners, Vanessa and Sabine, are sisters from France who took over the pub last May. Now there are brave things to do and brave things to do, and while coming over from Normandy to take over an old pub bordering Somers Town with the intention of serving authentic French bistro food might not be the bravest, it is surely up there. …

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