Towpath, 42 De Beauvoir Cres, London N1 5SB
Restaurants off the beaten path always lead to a path beaten-but what if the path was there first and you plonked a brilliant restaurant on it, instead?
Waterside eating in the inner-city isn’t always romantic. In my hometown of Bristol, The Harbourside is less of a body of water than an extreme amount of rat piss, the meniscus only lowering when the syringes draw some in and only rising with the addition of another knackered boat, person or statue.
But all along Regents Canal in Hackney, even though you can see debris ranging from plates to traffic cones in its shallow parts, those that live on it are doing their best to foster a way of life more commonly seen in rural Oxford. There’s a sense of a community that trusts one another; narrowboats stock their larder of Xiaoxing rice wine, artisanal hot sauces and ferments on their roofs, next to their herb gardens as if nobody is going to tamper with them. And it seems nobody does.
An embodiment of this Rosie and Jim-meets-Just William atmosphere is Towpath; a purely seasonal venture that closes for the winter and so getting there took precedence over any perennial site on the list. With the mismatched plates and warmth of the staff, there’s a sense of being at your friend's eccentric and culinarily talented aunty's house for lunch. The kind of person for whom good food is their love language, which endears you to their quirks. Kicking things off with the homemade lemonade, it’s just how you’d want it- no fizz, enough sugar to offset the wince, bobbing with vesicles and intensely thirst-quenching.
Forgetting to order bread and butter in this slightly panicked, befuddled, Hugh Grant-esque way that I do, the waitress reassures me that it will come in due course. "There’ll be mountains of it” she says, before seeing my face explode and interjecting with textbook expectation management skills “maybe more small hills than mountains, it depends on your definition”. The Kerrygold lilt of her voice causes my Editor and our friend to commence a crush almost immediately.
The taramasalata is light and deliciously briny, with a well of good olive oil in the centre and dusted with paprika is served with singed toast and snappingly fresh radishes. If the lemonade wasn’t already an indicator of our forthcoming experience then this was- great ingredients treated with respect where simplicity shouldn’t be conflated with any lack of skill. And sure enough, the bread and butter comes- a toffeed crust, dewey crumb and bouncing with a great prove- small hills, mountains, whatever- the topography, I’m here for it.
Like a tractor beam, our friend is drawn to the classic of figs, goat's curd, walnuts and honey. It’s one of those dishes that gives itself nowhere to hide due to its simplicity and is a humble brag on behalf of the suppliers. Should this be available as a toastie? Obviously. But it doesn’t stop me from forging a little sarnie out of it, does it?
The farinata with roasted red onion is topped with a bitter-sweet salad of red Belgian endive, gem lettuce, rocket and radish dressed with a thick mustard vinaigrette that hasn’t missed an inch of its target. All this serves as clothing to preserve the modesty of an obscene piece of baking beneath- the farinata is smoky, lingering with sweet, warm spicing and laced with caramelised red onion. From the crisp exterior to the almost underdone interior that you look for more often in brownies- the menu has undersold this in a way that makes it fascinating to work your way through.
Devilled crab in little gem canoes, a tad fiery with that honeysuckle sweetness you’re after from white crab meat. They say you are what you eat and I'm crabby that it's £9.50 for a paddler of three, but honestly, that's me nitpicking at this stage.
Finally, the cold has come to make everyone but me miserable and it’s time for pulses and legumes that have been simmered to within a hair’s breadth of disintegration to spread their buttery wings. Towpath offers a mound of slow-cooked chickpeas at maximum plump with a doorstop of a lamb chop that resembles a shrine to the Maillard God and is what Pantone defines as 'Geranium Pink’ within. Tomato and fennel have been gently cooked into honeyed submission; the whole plate is liberally anointed with cosying harissa that splits with the olive oil and resting juices at the bottom of the plate like a lava lamp.
With summer having walked out on us, this dish is autumn checking in on our wellbeing; bringing us our favourite hoodie, ordering a takeaway, pouring the wine, whacking on seasons 5-10 of The Simpsons and spooning us, laughing about how out of order summer was. I want to plough through the entire menu that features such things as Napoli sausages with braised lentils and green sauce. Roast cod with dhal. Poached leeks, brown shrimp and chopped egg.
Dessert doesn’t appear on the menu, but I see brownies- thick, sombre cubes of cocoa ferried to tables by people with Cheshire Cat grins. Although we don’t partake, you have to conclude that they’re good or at the very least, worthy of a punt because Towpath drips with the appeal that only elevated comfort food can. I’ll be first in line come spring as good things definitely come to those who wait (behind me).