Restaurant review

The Plimsoll, London N4: ‘Nostalgia, simplicity and cheeky weirdness’ – restaurant review | Food

Je Plimsoll is a pub on a side road in Finsbury Park, North London, doing a buzzing trade serving burgers and more, who knows exactly what it is. It’s not remotely a gastro pub. It’s not an old exorcised, shiny floor boozer with its heart dragged, replaced by a heavily styled guinea fowl on white china and gelato of the day, Noble Isle hand soap, stacks of hand towels in neatly folded Egyptian cotton and a soothing George. Compilation of Ezra floating in the private dining room. There are hundreds of pubs like this across Britain and although they are very convenient for those who want a ‘civilized’ meal with ‘the lads’, I’m not sure those same diners would appreciate the Plimsoll.

Or understand why the tables at this non-gastropub are currently like gold dust, meaning they’d probably settle for a table for two at 9:15 p.m. midweek, late March, only to find that the menu is a fried bhuna or liver scallop pizza with colcannon, served on your great-grandmother’s finest but mismatched crockery, in a rather dark and cheeky “pubby” old pub, filled with the ghosts of its past as a lair in drinking the old-fashioned way, but now with screaming Sonic Youth. Or they may turn up on a weekend or an Arsenal game day, only to find there is a very limited menu. At this point, some customers may become livid and puzzled, the two main emotions behind nearly all restaurant reviews on Yelp.com. Why would I send people there who would be upset that it isn’t? Especially since I don’t want the table shortage to get any dumber.

The Dexter burger at Plimsoll, Finsbury Park, London

There was a moment when a large slice of freshly made ricotta cheesecake – firm, Italian New York style, lightly salted, convincing and served with a small ramekin of rhubarb – arrived and, as I took spoon, Kate Bush walks up that hill started playing. It was the purest, most multi-sensory, pure pleasure I’ve had since 2020.

The Plimsoll is now in the hands of chefs Jamie Allan and Ed McIlroy, who prior to this project ran a beloved semi-permanent pop-up called four legs to Compton Arms north of London. Here, the pair rose to fame on the culinary scene for serving up a really good Dexter cheeseburger – a brilliant, slightly sloppy, cheesy burger blessed with pickles but certainly not spoiled by salad. It takes a lot to impress the food scene with a burger these days, but Allan and Mcllroy have done it, along with bowls of soft fried potatoes with fresh aioli, plates of chipolatas from near-blackened pork, hash and tatties, then delicate plates of scallop escabeche or a luxurious Middlesborough-style parmo (chicken parmigiana) laden with cheese.

Those potatoes... at Plimsoll, Finsbury Park, N4.
Those potatoes… at Plimsoll, Finsbury Park, N4.

All that nostalgia, simplicity, and cheeky quirkiness would be a disaster if the duo didn’t know how to cook: it works because they’re awesome. Allan is formerly from Hill & Szrok at Broadway Market and McIlroy was at the highly respected Bao; for two years at the Compton Arms, they honed their talent for pleasing the hungry. There’s a quiet finesse to their work that’s way ahead of pub food; so on this mismatched one-leaf menu – which changes daily – expect a humble bowl of crisps served with a smooth pink pool of fresh cod roe. Or a plate of breaded and fried herring perched on a coarsely cut baguette with a precise watercress mayonnaise.

We ordered sole with shittake, not quite expecting to receive the whole fish served with a buttery ground sauce rich in mushrooms and sweet rhubarb. The Plimsoll takes you from St John in Ynyshir to Saturday lunch at Pearl Beach in Saint Tropez but somehow you’re in the Queen Vic and it’s cooked by men who look like members of the Faces band from the Rod Stewart era of the early 70s.

Plimsoll's freshly baked ricotta cheesecake.
Plimsoll’s ‘convincing’ ricotta cheesecake.

The service is incredibly good, quick and knowledgeable which elevates the whole pub experience to something beyond. But that said, the tables are tight, so expect to be there for quite a while, but not long. If I had had more time, I would have lingered over a plate of old earl, a bowl of whiskey pudding, and maybe another bowl of potatoes and some fancy garlic mayonnaise. However, it was Wednesday, the Plimsoll was packed and they wanted to collect my 5.30pm table.

I have to respect any restaurant that kicks me out—pen in hand, silly earrings dangling as I finish my cheesecake—because they already have enough customers. No three-hour tasting menus and “do you want to tour the kitchens?” for the men of Four Legs. They are complete and do not need my comments and I love that.

  • Four legs in Plimsoll 52 St Thomas’s Road, London N4; (no phone). Open Monday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from noon to midnight. Around £45 per person plus drinks and service.