‘We offer good arty food – for the soul and the stomach’
SAM’S Café is described as a greasy spoon – but without the fat. It’s certainly a love letter to traditional British coffee, tweaked and improved for the lucky locals of Primrose Hill.
For nearly two years, Sam’s Café has been set up on the corner of Chalcot Road, a site previously occupied by the French restaurant L’Absinthe.
Until this week, I had never visited – although God knows why.
Open late, it’s buzzing with happy customers. Start your day with a boiled egg and soldiers; or finish it off with grilled mackerel on dill toast and a glass of Pinot Grigio.
The owners of Sam’s Café are longtime friends Sam Frears and Andrew O’Hagan, who runs it with his wife Lindsey Milligan.
The trio lead dazzling careers in the creative arts – cinema, books, theater – which explains the unique and sparkling atmosphere of their joint venture.
“We offer good arty food – for the soul and the stomach,” says Milligan, who was quietly working on her laptop in the back of the room.
They display the work of artists on the walls: the sketched portraits of Gaby Wood, perhaps, or a series of collagraphs entitled “Animals for a disappearing alphabet”.
You’ll find magazine racks full of magazines and back issues of the London Review of Books; announcements of Zumba and Tai Chi classes pinned to the bulletin board. Novels and children’s books pile up on the shelves; there’s a vintage jukebox and photos of Primrose Hill from days gone by. Downstairs, the ballroom is a popular spot for book launches and eclectic supper clubs.
Came for breakfast, choosing one of the more exotic options – Turkish cilbir with chilli, dukkah and toast. This dish consists of two poached eggs served on yoghurt seasoned with aromatics such as coriander and fennel seeds, dill and chives (£9).
The breakfast rolls were also irresistible – in my case golden fried halloumi slices lubricated with harissa mayonnaise (£4). The breakfast menu, in fact, is a design genius. There is sumptuous full English; a plant-based option with vegan sausage, mashed avocado, Portobello mushroom, tomato, spinach, bubble and squeak, homemade baked beans and toast (both £12).
Egg riffs include Royale, Florentine and Benedict; you can add cheeky extras such as crumbled feta cheese, black pudding, or bacon bits.
The lunch and dinner menu is available from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m., with bestsellers such as fishcakes or “Sam’s Favorite Spag Bol.” There is often a fish of the day, such as a salad niçoise of pan-fried tuna.
For the pudding, enjoy a classic Knickerbocker Glory or grilled peaches with ricotta and pistachio crumbs.
Sam’s Café is guaranteed to lift your spirits – any time of the day. The business is perfectly positioned for its location and the prices are fair.
To be honest, I envy the owners. Sam’s Café was an opportunity to express their shared love and creativity.
It must have been so much fun bringing it to life.
40 Chalcot Road, NW1
020 7916 3736