I noticed today that one of my favourite haunts, Café Pistou, has closed down permanently.

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When it first opened, it was a great place to enjoy a relaxed evening. Not cheap, but not excessively priced, it was a place you could enjoy a coffee or a bottle of wine, a full lunch or dinner, or work your way through the many small plates. I always enjoyed the food, though, to judge by Fay Maschler’s review in the Standard towards the end of 2014, quality could be variable, and, where once you could take time and stay late over a bottle of wine, the policy seemed to have beome roll ’em on up, roll ’em on out. Still, I’ll be sad to see it go. It was an independently run establishment, whereas its replacement, Grind, which originated in Shoreditch (where else?) is now a London chain of seven eateries. They also have a coffee roastery and a couple of music studios, so they are very hipster, very edgy, or whatever other word is current these days. (Don’t ask me. I’m getting on after all). I have never been to any of their establishments, so I will reserve judgement till their new place has opened, but I will miss Café Pistou, though it was only around for a couple of years.

The other place that has closed recently had been around a lot longer than that, famed for providing very good bistro food at a very reasonable price. It was called Little Bay, and had branches in Kilburn (the first one, I believe), Brighton, Croydon and possibly elsewhere. For a long time it was extremely popular, mostly because it was so cheap, and the food amazingly good at the price. One wondered how on earth they were able to do it. Quite often I would stop off on my way home, as eating there could be cheaper than a trip to the supermarket.

That said, standards had dropped off in the last few years, and I hadn’t been for quite some time.

It has been replaced by a place called Hammer and Tongs, which tries to reproduce indoors an outdoor South African braii, albeit at swanky London West End prices (a T-Bone sharing plate will set you back £56 and most of the wines sell at over £30 a bottle). I haven’t sampled it yet, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to on my budget.

Two other favourite restaurants have also disappeared in recent years. Both of them closed at the same time, priced out by a new landlord who whacked up the rent beyond their means. One of them, Sade, another restaurant providing excellent food at very low prices, and one I used to go to on a regular basis, remains closed and boarded up. The other, the Gulshan Tandoori, a family run Indian restaurant, which had been trading for over 30 years, has been replaced by two fast food establishments, Dirty Burger and Pizza Pilgrims. The Gulshan was a really good Indian restaurant, and a favourite haunt of mine when I was appearing at Sadler’s Wells in Bless the Bride. I was also a regular takeaway customer. I miss it.

Quite a few places came and went before I got a chance to sample them, but it appears the excellent and well established Moro, with its cheaper, smaller tapas bar, Morito, is still going strong.

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Moro has been here 20 years now, and unfortunately I’ve only been once. I don’t know whether it’s still the case, but you always had to book ages in advance, and I was never that organised. The food, on that one occasion, was absolutely fantastic, and it appears to be pretty packed every time I pass by, so I would assume that the quality is still excellent. At one time I thought it quite expensive. Nowadays, comparing their prices with others in the area, it seems quite reasonable, but I suppose that’s a sign of the times too.

With Crossrail about to go through the station, Farringdon is set to become one of the busiest, if not the busiest station in London. Uniquely, it will have direct connections to Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton, with St Pancras and Eurostar just one stop away. There is so much development and building work going on that it’s hard to keep track. The old Guardian offices, an ugly 60s block on Farringdon Road, have been razed to the ground, to be replaced by yet another luxury office and apartment block. The old St Martins School of Art has suffered the same fate.

The old Guardian Newspaper office is right next door to Piano Works, a fairly recent addition to Clerkenwell’s night life. It’s a lively and popular live music bar and my niece, Abi, is now one of the resident singers there. It has a great vibe and we love it there. I just hope that gentrification , that terrible word which is ripping the heart out of so many parts of London doesn’t mean its demise.

I’ve lived in Clerkenwell for a long time now, long before it was trendy, when most of the area south of Rosebery Avenue was commercial office space. At one time my nearest supermarket was at the Barbican or Angel, Islington, and it was like a ghost town at weekends. Now I have a Waitrose less than five minutes’ walk from my flat, dozens of restaurants to choose from, design shops and clothes shops opening up everywhere. What once was Turnmills night club, home to the notorious Trade, as well as other clubs is now home to another Shoreditch export, Albion. I like it. They do a great all day breakfast, but I do hope that Clerkenwell doesn’t become, well, just a suburb of Shoreditch. It has its own character, almost like an inner city village, and I hope it retains something of that character.

 

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