“Go on holiday every month. Go to the cinema every week. Eat out every single night.” A friend with a ten-month-old child is explaining, crazed glint in his eye, what my husband of three months and I must - must, you fools! - do before we have children. And are then, presumably, shackled inside our house every evening forever more by sleep training schedules and smeared sweet potato, projectile body fluids and, I don’t know, what do the kids watch these days - Fireman Sam?
We’re in no rush. For now we are perfectly happy with my sister-in-law’s fifteen-month-old son, who we love and adore and cherish, and can hand back to his parents after two hours. And we are perfectly happy to visit them in the northern reaches of Crouch End, that bit of London where you go when you have children. Because in Crouch End, here be Lyon’s. And Lyon’s is wonderful.
Besides being close enough to my sister-in-law’s house that they can make it there between naps, Lyon’s has pedigree. Head chef Talia Prince has worked at The Fat Duck and Le Gavroche, owner Anthony Lyon was general manager at Roka and The Wolseley and has all the instinctive hospitality of those places, pouring us free glugs of lemony vermouth that go impeccably with thickly Kentucky fried cod cheeks.
Sonny is in mutinous mood. Anthony rushes for crayons and colouring book, pacifying cucumber slices. Sonny signals his thanks by scrawling indelibly on their nice new table. We order, quickly.
Lyon’s suppliers are the excellent Wright Brothers and Henderson Seafood; the room is beautiful, all brick and gorgeous tiles and flattering lighting; Sonny is now glued to an episode of Little Baby Bum on an iPhone. The mood is too perfect to be shattered by a bum note, so we skirt the potential danger of stone bass, cashew celeriac mash and coffee veloute. Instead, stone bass tartare: a chubby mound of jewel-like diced fish shot through with acidity and crowned with a topaz scattering of tobiko, those orange fish eggs that are the popping candy of the sea. Then three chic fingers of soused mackerel, a brilliant dish: the sweet and sour fatty fish lush with a layer of gossamer lardo, scattered with a crunch of rye crumbs, a scoop of salsa verde on the side, squeaking of lemon and garlic. We smear great sourdough with seaweed butter and dabble it in the citrussy juices. We stick another episode of baby crack in front of Sonny.
Crispy potatoes are now ubiquitous confits: skeins of potato layered and deep-fried. I’m into the cutesy chip shop curry sauce on the side. And even more into the idea of miso cod collars. Fin-to-gill eating brings even more eco-kudos than nose-to-tail: by eating every part to avoid waste, this ugly chunk of oft-chucked fish - the bony triangle of fatty meat between the gills and body - gets centre stage. Kudos to Lyon’s for offering them: they’re inconsistently cooked, but still delicious, prized nuggets of gloriously gelatinous meat sticky with ginger and garlic. Whole sea bass comes weirdly on a bed of bamboo leaves like we’re suddenly in Mahiki, and is as exemplary as it can be if, rather than ordering a third bottle of icy rose on a beach terrace in Greece, you are in Crouch End with a restless toddler.
Would Lyon’s be so raveworthy if it was in packed central London rather than N4, where an empty late Saturday lunch means no problems accommodating prams, and dishes brought leisurely, safe in the knowledge that we’re too distracted to timekeep? Maybe not. But as
it stands, Lyon’s is the platonic ideal of a neighbourhood restaurant that Crouch Enders should take smug ownership of. When they can get a babysitter.
Meal for 2: £100
55 The Broadway
London N8 8DT
The Crouch End Cellars is an ideal neighbourhood wine bar: dozens of bottles of lovely stuff tend towards the natural and funky, all to take away or drink in with a plate of delightful ham.