Everyone is going nuts for this Crouch End steakhouse
BY VICTORIA PREVER North-west London has nurtured several restaurant-owning dynasties. The Kaye family brought us Golden Egg and Garfunkels and the next generation, the first ASK restaurant – in Belsize Park in 1993. That site was was previously a Cafe Fl
BY VICTORIA PREVER
North-west London has nurtured several restaurant-owning dynasties. The Kaye family brought us Golden Egg and Garfunkels and the next generation, the first ASK restaurant - in Belsize Park in 1993. That site was was previously a Cafe Flo, one of a chain set up by the Joffe family in the 1990s. The Joffes went on to establish the now flourishing Giraffe chain - the founding restaurant being up the road on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead.
One young Joffe - who learnt his craft at the family table - decided to go off and do the same thing for himself. Four years ago, Gideon Joffe, his sister Mattea and two friends opened Monkey Nuts in Crouch End. The others have since left the business but Gideon - who is still in his 20s - is still at the helm, aided by his wife, and can be seen most nights on the restaurant floor.
Crouch End seems to be suffering from the credit crunch, with a wealth of TO LET signs but Monkey Nuts doesn't seem to have been affected. Several friends have recommended it but I had steered clear, assuming from the name that it would be overrun with six-year-olds.
I tried it out at 8pm, when I hoped few of the toddler set would be eating out. First surprise was the site. I'd been past many times without looking properly. I'd assumed it to be an arty theatre, the sort of place you'd find middle-class pseudo-intellectuals in black roll-neck jumpers indulging in a pie and a play.
It's actually a large bar and steakhouse named after a band Joffe played in during his teenage years. Well-defined branding and attention to detail is evident and evidence of Joffe's Giraffe heritage. Posters advertising Monkey Nuts the band are fictional as they never actually hit high enough heights to warrant advertising.
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A large, friendly knitted toy monkey sits in the bar - happy to join you at your table. Its predecessor was monkey-napped and, despite "Wanted" posters across Crouch End, was never returned.
This is a place that feels loved and cared for.
The front section has a pub-like bar and drinkers' tables, the back is a series of booths and a large dining room. There's lots of wood. For those of you old enough to remember, it has a Tex-Mex look, reminiscent of Break for the Border.
The walls lined with arty music posters give it a post-modern Hard Rock feel. We were greeted with huge warm smiles but seated at a table a little too close to a toilet. We had a great view of the kitchen pass though. A stack of no less than 24 high chairs and pots of crayons confirmed my suspicions on the child front.
Menus (on brown paper-based tablemats) have a look of the Wild West. It's a menu that would delight anyone either under 20 or entirely unconcerned about their waistline or arteries.
Starters include garlic bread, salads, potato skins, barbecue chicken wings, crunchy-coated prawns and nachos. Mains are burgers, steaks, hearty American-style salads.
After excellent smoothies, Grumpy and I kicked off with a garlic and herb baguette. The piping hot loaf drenched in garlicky butter, lacked in the herb department but was filled with flavour. To ease our healthy consciences we teamed it with a "Nice Little House Salad", a mixed salad dressed with the right amount of mustardy vinaigrette. Restaurant salads are too often apologetically limp but this was fresh and zingy.
Our waitress was so on the case, plates were lifted within minutes of our downing cutlery. We didn't wait too long for main courses, either. Grumpy's smoked haddock, salmon and spinach fishcake was huge, crisply golden and lying on a bed of more fresh salad. He loved it.
My towering meatball burger (a special) arrived on a wooden board. It was topped with an attractive bun coated with black onion and sesame seeds, and filled with tomato, salad and a smokey-flavoured sauce. The meatballs were topped with melted cheese. It was impossible to eat without deconstruction, but I enjoyed it.
A bowl of accompanying small potato wedges had a crisp, spicy coating and a gazillion calories. I managed about half of each.
You don't eat here and skip dessert. The selection isn't your run-of-the-mill menu. Crumble is apple, raspberry and pecan, a waffle is topped with roast banana, vanilla ice cream, chocolate and toffee sauce. I could go on but I'd have to go back and eat more.
They even do pots of Jude's ice cream to go - perfect for the glutton who needs a pause between courses. Needing no break, our Big Bad Monkey Sundae was a tower of ice cream, chocolate brownie, marshmallows, Smarties and sauces. One complaint - one paltry Smartie.
The best bit was the bill. We'd eaten until we could eat no more and all for just over £40.
It's unsophisticated, simple food executed really well - which should be the mantra of more local restaurateurs. Joffe isn't in a hurry to expand his brand beyond the one site, but could do well when he decides to spread his wings beyond N8.
Your kids will love it and many adults would enjoy a trip here to feed their inner child.
Including me .
Monkey Nuts, 2 Park Road, Crouch End N8 8TD.
Telephone: 020-8340 4466
Food: four star rating
Service: five star rating
Hours: Weekdays, 10am to 10pm. Weekends, 11am to 10.30pm.
Cost: £40 per head for three courses.