Sam’s Cafe is just about as Primrose Hill as it gets. His childhood in Gloucester Crescent, just across the railway tracks, was chronicled by Nina Stibbe in her book Love Nina, which was subsequently adapted for BBC One by Nick Hornby. Sam himself had a cameo playing a neighbour in the series; Helena Bonham Carter played the character based on the book’s Mary-Kay Wilmers, Sam’s real-life mother and editor of the London Review of Books. The book also heavily features Primrose Hill local treasure, Alan Bennett, who was back then neighbour of Sam’s family and a frequent visitor, as well as film director Stephen Frears, Sam’s father.
And now Sam has opened his cafe and the folk of Primrose Hill are pretty pleased.
I popped in for lunch with my pal @londonette on their second day, and the place was packed. Even Helena Bonham Carter and Dennis Lawson had to sit outside on what was quite a chilly day for September; we managed to bag seats indoors, sharing a table with a couple who kindly made room for us. I’m sure all the other local cafés must have been empty that day: everyone was at Sam’s.
So it was very nice to go back this week, now that they have had a chance to draw breath. And they have really hit their stride.
The décor is 50s Americana meets Parisian neighbourhood cafe and was designed by Jane Rainey Design, Jane Ormsby-Gore’s company – you might know her better as Lady Jane from the Rolling Stone’s song. And the jukebox was curated by Robert Plant – I’m not sure it gets any cooler than that. @londonette and I were very happy in our booth; there’s something about a booth that feels very cosy and chatty and we had to remind ourselves to concentrate on reviewing the food rather than our lives in general.
So, the food.
Sam’s has very cleverly constructed a menu that combines hearty comfort food – think all-day breakfast, shepherds pie, sausages and mash – with very healthy, sophisticated and interesting salads and food that you might contentedly graze at, such as their charcuterie board. There’s something there to make everyone very happy, and that’s not an easy feat to pull off.
@londonette loved her salmon fishcake with lemon and garlic spinach, poached egg and hollandaise, which, she told me, had a good ratio of fish to potato and the poached egg felt like a special treat. ‘Definitely in the top tier of fishcakes’ she said. However, she was hankering for the kedgeree which is served only for breakfast – so there’s a vote for moving it to the all-day menu.
I thoroughly enjoyed my Cornish crab salad with peas, broad beans, samphire and fennel; as I am allergic to egg, the chef left off the lemon and chive mayo and scattered chives and squeezed lemon over instead, which I appreciated. The salad was perfectly crisp and the crab was delicious. It wasn’t totally clear to me whether the peas and broad beans were fresh or frozen, but I can definitely say it was yummy and healthy.
We shared a heritage tomato and goats curd salad with spring onion and rapeseed oil, which was delicious, and also the cauliflower and kale salad with spinach, toasted almonds and house dressing. Unfortunately things slipped up a bit here, as the dressing contained egg and hadn’t been checked, but luckily I noticed in time and didn’t eat it. An egg-free version was swiftly produced and very happy with it I was too.
All this healthy-eating was supplemented by a carrot, apple and ginger juice (apparently freshly-squeezed elsewhere and brought in) for me and a Sicilian lemonade for @londonette. Sam’s doesn’t have an alcohol licence but BYO is welcomed for a £5 corkage and helpfully there is a 5% discount for Sam’s customers directly across the road at Nicolas.
I think that Sam’s is going to become a big Primrose Hill favourite and Primrose Hillers have many happy breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas ahead. Now we just have to persuade them to stay open for dinner…
Sam’s Café, 140 Regent’s Park Road, NW1 8XL.
© 2017 Joanna Reeves, all rights reserved.