Islington is a bellwether, and also a joke: the most unequal borough in London, where social housing leans against £4 million terraces (for now, loyal Conservative voters, only for now), and also the holy font of Blairism as it appears in ‘It’s Grim Up North London’. Here, it is said, they sang the Blairite version of the Red Flag: ‘The People’s flag is deepest pink/ It’s not as red as people think/ So raise the scarlet banner high/ The college song, the old school tie.’ No more; the jokes are dust, and Blair, it is rumoured, is living on a jet full time, flying away from himself or, as I think more probable, under a spray-tan machine, staining himself that peculiar shade of orange that interior decorators call Atomic Tangerine, a fine mirror for his madness.
Its MP, as you know, is Jeremy Corbyn. He had nothing to do with Blairism, but you might see him on the streets of its cemetery angrily riding a bicycle. I can hardly bear to discuss Corbyn just now; because I, the sort of (Jewish) Labour voter who would vote for a cow if it were on the ballot paper, have been made by this leader to pity Lord Levy as he dares to fret publicly about the anti-Semitism of the left; and that is grievous, for Corbyn calls himself insulted, an emotion Jews well understand.
There is more news in Islington, better news for the critic herself spiritually resident of ‘It’s Grim Up North London’: Chris Corbin (note the ‘i’) and Jeremy King have opened a new restaurant called Bellanger, which rears, like a Cinema Paradiso, from Islington Green. Corbin and King run some of the best restaurants in London — the Delaunay, the Wolseley and Fischer’s. These are well-fitted, well-staffed and, as is important to this sensitive column, in no way morally disgusting (with the possible exception of the Colony Grill Room, a restaurant for Patek Philippe watches and their owners). Some wondered if Corbin and King were expanding too fast, but their only failure, for me, is Colbert, and I put that down to its being in Chelsea; magicians they may be, but they can’t do anything about Chelsea. This pair want everyone in their restaurants and they are priced for it, particularly Brasserie Zédel, the pink barn in Piccadilly; the owner of the Richmond Crescent house with the super-basement might, therefore, be surprised to find semi-ordinary people in Bellanger. This is not the land of the plutocrat and his sexy fish.
So, a dark and calming restaurant, lit by what looks like candlelight. It is T-shaped, with a mixture of booths, banquettes and tables and a long mirrored bar. There is good — that is, intense — art and, in the windows, cakes in the shape of rabbits. Bellanger wisely avoids any connection with the streets outside and looks toward the Continent for its soul. If Fischer’s is Vienna in Marylebone, Bellanger is Strasbourg in north London. Sometimes I think this restaurant group is an anti-Brexit protest in itself, even if it knows, as KFC doesn’t, that Alsace veered between France and Germany five times, and thus cooked interesting food, the food that made the EU in fact; or else it’s set up a dining room for central European refugees. But I do take these things too seriously.
We eat a tarte flambée — essentially a thin German pizza — studded with pig; rich ravioles du Royans, green with spinach and silky with butter; a coq au Riesling, perhaps the most glorious chicken stew I have eaten; veal Holstein, which is ideally crisp.
If there is another restaurant homage to Strasbourg in north London, I have not found it yet. The corridor to the toilets, meanwhile, is a shrine to Goethe, who studied in Strasbourg; there are perhaps ten prints of him, looking happy, hungry, lost.
Bellanger, Islington Green, London N1 2XH, tel: 020 7226 2555.