Great London Pubs No.4: The Albion
The curse of the cupcake afflicts certain affluent areas of London – perfectly respectable pubs and restaurants are turned into frilly creches for the chattering classes. Trendy Canonbury is infested with them. Gone are the flatulent pub dogs and dimpled pint mugs, the kind of pubs where pork scratchings count as a main course, and in come macaroons and smoked salmon salad a la plancha for nannies, babies and a certain breed of blonde mum who did two years in publishing before producing a baby and filling in the time before her first divorce mooning around cushion shops and taking tea in converted pubs.
There’s an odd residential area very close to the centre of London that people overlook – Barnesbury is so hidden that there are signs to it – but why would you go there? Well, for a start there are two excellent pubs, the Crown – and the Albion, with its superb wisteria-filled garden.
Barnesbury was little more than a run-down adjunct to the formerly dismal Caledonian Road for years, but always held special interest, not least for the strange Egyptian sphinxes that grace the front gardens of its houses. There’s a gigantic children’s park that I’ve never seen a child use in 20 years, and some gas-lamp-and-honeysuckle cobbled streets that look like they’re in the wrong century. Now it’s prime real estate, which means that nobody lives here anymore.
However, people do visit the Albion, and with good reason. It’s a Georgian boozer left over from a time when Islington was fields and farmland, and where the regulars would take afternoon walks out of the city. Now it treads a fine line between pub and award-winning restaurant – but thankfully it’s not one where yakkity nannies and screaming anklebiters have pushed regular drinkers into an Alamo-style siege. The staff are hardworking, the service can be a bit crazy (beware of the sunny Sunday lunch-rush!) but as a good example of London-rural (a style you’ll also find in places like Turnham Green and Wandsworth) it’s pretty hard to fault.