When Primeur opened in a former garage on a quiet leafy street in Canonbury three years ago, a first thought came to mind: "Good luck chaps, this is a tough spot. Hope you can make this work." It has since become my most visited restaurant in London.
Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell have opened their second site, Westerns Laundry, just fifteen minutes walk away (some have referred to this part of Holloway as LoHo - shudder), this time in a 1950's building that used to house a wholesale laundry business – this knack of finding disused sites and turning them into convivial dining rooms is now looking like it was no fluke first time around. Head Chef James Mitchell takes the reins alongside manager and wine Tsar Francis Roberts, both of whom have been working at Primeur in the build-up to opening.
This time they are 'focusing on produce from the sea' (they have good form, having worked together at Wright Brothers) and a first visit has already shown them nailing the brief and smashing it out of Drayton Park. The chalkboard menu has plenty to entice each day. Three of us gave the menu a right old hammering.
Cuttlefish and ham croquettes are remarkable, first tasted at a Westerns menu trailer evening at Primeur: crisp panko crumbed casing, jammed with chunks of cuttlefish and its ink, to be dredged through a wickedly garlicky aïoli. Order these or go home.
Langoustines and Marie Rose sauce (superior prawn cocktail) feature some of the fattest langoustines around, large sods that deserve having their heads sucked of every last dribble of juice. £3 each? We order three rounds. If they can keep those prices, it will be happening again.
Baked lobster fideuà pasta has its vermicelli noodles steeped in sonorously rich stock, speaking of lobster shells and its gubbins. £17. Likely to happen again, too.
We also take down silky raw seabass; grilled mackerel with miso, chilli and spring onions; tomatoes and crème fraîche (stunning tomatoes); oysters; top notch Paleta Ibérica jamón; more of those ridiculous croquettes.
Francis pours a glass of Werlitsch's 'Legoth', an Austrian Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc that is remarkably fresh and perky for its ten years of age. We also hammer through many Picon Bières, a supercharged serve of Alsace's Meteor lager that they take seriously here: blizzard cold, slammable.
Open kitchen, counter dining, and the room hums in the evening with the same energy, joie de vivre and candlelit charm of Primeur. I'll be at the counter...