As parents we (now I’m speaking very generally here) like to work and childcare hard – but after a certain age our playtime really must include – in order – good food, a decent and well thought out beverage; comfortable decor – and a vibe that makes us want to stay until our babysitter calls demanding our whereabouts. We’re not asking for much are we?
Local dad and veteran publican James Corbett doesn’t think so. Despite already owning five pubs in West London (including The Larrik in Marylebone) and one in Oxfordshire, James saw the lease for The Island on Kensal’s College Road up for sale and felt the need to bring some life into the rather tired pub. After taking hold of the keys in August this year, James and his business partner set about creating a place that we can all enjoy visiting.
Now in the interest of community guidance, my fellow Queen’s Park Mum and I were invited to an evening of food and wine sampling (it’s a tough old gig) with the aim of sharing our experiences with you.
We opted for a Wednesday evening late in October – because we needed to celebrate getting to mid week in one piece. We were met with a warm and welcoming atmosphere already buzzing with diners and those merrily propping up the bar, and it was only 7pm – the kids weren’t even in bed!
The interior has had a much needed overhaul with half the front left section of the pub given over to an array of four and two seater tables alongside a comfortable leather banquette spanning the middle wall. The main structural change is the double height ceiling above the new seating area – previously a dead space which gives the relatively small area a loftier and fresher feel. On the decor front, the plantation style shutters and abundance of plants both inside and out, give us the feeling of dining in a far flung destination – a place where we’re allowed to don our glad rags should we so feel the desire. And not merely hang out with mum mates at the back end of Kensal Rise (although that’s good too).
Updated interior at The Island pub
Upstairs, the seating is much the same – but word of warning, when the pub quiz is on (now every Tuesday), you may well feel the need to shout out an answer to the rather loud quiz master’s catch 22 question mid mouthful.
Food wise, we don’t want to be too gushy because it’s easy to say how mouth watering delicious it all was – but actually we need to because we have to do it justice.
On first sight the ‘launch’ menu (a hybrid of “best of’s” from the owner’s other pubs whilst they find their feet) looks a tad overwhelming but that’s just because they detail every gorgeous ingredient going into the dish. I guess if you have passionate chefs taking time to source, cook and plate them – they should get a shout out right? And actually the menu is (to take the words of Jamie O) ‘bang on’ in terms of variety with a good balance of meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan options.
We shared two of the delicious sounding starters, opting for the Padron Peppers with lime, sea salt and smoked paprika alongside the recommended Indonesian fried chicken with spring onion, chilli and sesame which was genuinely one of the tastiest marinated chicken dishes we’ve eaten. Tangy with the right amount of heat to make it unbelievably moorish. At £7.50 for the chicken, the portion is generous so really worth sharing and saving yourself for the main course.
Once we’d finally finished and stopped gassing for half a second (mums night really does mean fighting for breath), we indulged (gorged?) ourselves on a plate of Duck breast glazed with honey, parsnip mash, red cabbage and blackberry jus and the Macaroni cheese made with a combo of gruyere and cheddar cheese, served with garlic and rosemary bread. The macaroni was topped off with the delicate earthy flavour of truffle oil, which if you’re thinking of ordering the same is very worth the £1 addition.
Indonesian fried chicken with spring onion, chilli and sesame
We accompanied it all with a well dressed Baby Gem & Watercress Salad (£3.50), and a bottle of the recommended Argentinian Malbec (£29).
By desert time, my girl date and I were practically lolling around on the banquette giving Daddy Pig a run for his money in the belly stakes but in the interest of good journalism, we persevered with a shared Sticky Toffee Pudding (without raisins as it should be) accompanied with toffee sauce and ice cream. It was faultless – genuinely.
To give an idea of the wider menu (as it currently stands), starters are between £6 – £11 with the exception of the Charcuterie Board at £13 and includes Dorset Crab on Toast (£10), Hand Cut Nachos (£11) and Roast Beetroot with goats cheese (£8). All the starters we tried (and snooped on at other tables) were generous.
Mains are between £12 – £15 with the exception of the Ribeye Steak at £19 and includes pub staples such as Fish & Chips (£14), Chicken Pie (£15) and Sweet Potato Curry (£14). Again, portions were generous.
Daily brunches and Sunday Roasts are also menu staples and already fast becoming local favourites.
We see a lot of gastro pubs come and go, and regardless of decor – the delivery of good food and drink along with the right ambience is the barometer of a pub’s success. The Island occupies a well-loved spot and will always bring in the local clientele desperately in need of an after work pint. But local parents (of which there are many owing to both a nursery and school on the road) could take it or leave it. I don’t believe this will be the case any more. The interior is not ground breaking but is welcoming – an enjoyable place to sit and chew the fat. The food prices aren’t the cheapest but the quality is excellent; the pub isn’t child focused (quite rightly) but welcomes families young and old; and best of all, it’s run by a local who cares –
Our aim is always to create a really good quality local pub full of fun, laughter and family. Somewhere the neighbourhood can enjoy and be proud of. My yard stick is, if it’s good enough for my mother it should be good enough for anyone – James Corbett, Owner
Overall we had a really brilliant time at the newly opened Island pub and can see it becoming another ‘go to’ destination for both Kensal and Queen’s Park locals. Although we’re sure they won’t need it, we wish The Island team all the very best for the future and look forward to seeing it thrive.
123 College Road
London, NW10 5HA