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Drinking in Kensal: The Island

By Wills Morgan
EVENING ISLAND: a dramatic shot of a place known for 50 years of no little drama... — at The Island.
 
It’s been seven months since THE ISLAND was turned from College Road’s local bar and restaurant into a brasserie...so it’s time to ask some questions. How’s it going? How are the staff members fitting in? What’s on the menu? Can I get a pint with that please, yeah?
 
Let’s recap, then: as early as 1896 there was an application for a pub in College Park to be called the VICTOR TAVERN, which was refused at the time. It was not until as recently as 1970 that a licence was eventually agreed for that area, which was owned by All Souls College, Oxford (Churches seemed to own all sorts of ungodly things in the old days…even Libraries…don’t get me started on that).
 
The result: an extraordinary detached pub called THE BUCCANEER. The Buccaneer was probably the last...and ugliest...of Willesden's purpose-built pub buildings. It gave the vague impression of the hull of a pirate ship. And, given the weather we have around these parts you won't be surprised that everybody remembers the Buccaneer...but no-one misses it. 
 
Anyway, to cut a long story short...improvements were made to the building around about 2003 or 2004: and the ISLAND as the locals knew it (and loved it as if it were their own living room, albeit with a tacky bar attached) continued to sort-of-exist till October of last year.
 
Cue three weeks of speedy renovation which only looked good if you were in a helicopter flying over the M25 (that’s not my joke, ladies and gents: it comes courtesy of an anonymous builder).
 
And then came the opening: featuring a bar flooded full of aliens bussed in from all divisions of the owners’ vast empire. I remember standing outside and saying to a mate: ‘Who the hell are these people?’ “They’re the folks looking back and saying ‘who the hell are you?” was my mate’s reply.
a rare sunny day in Kensal: the Island with its awning down. — at The Island.
That was then. Let’s get up to speed with the now: that now being the summer of 2013. 
 
No matter whatever the upwardly-mobile inhabitants of Kensal get up (and get mobile) to, you can be sure that they will slope towards their local pub on a Friday.  Indeed: whenever the days are long, and the only thing blocking the sun's rays are cheap awnings attached to shops nearby, there is no reason to do anything different with the best days of your lives...not when you can stand outside with your mates at your local.
SUMMER SOLTICE: wishful thinking. — at The Island.
So the fact that the ISLAND's terraced garden is back in business is not just good news: it's very good business. Newly-purchased outdoor furniture creates a positive impression. The area is bordered and maintained by a brick creation: with some token greenery that is happily wearing away. The tier of the building below the roof is painted outside in white, so that when the corner of Herbert Gardens is bathed in afternoon light, near enough everybody on College Road is keen for a swim.
 
Portions of the old ISLAND`s décor remain in the seating that lines the restaurant on the upper floor. However, it is easily upstaged by large fans that seem to ape the rotations of a ‘Chinook’ helicopter. On the Sunday afternoon I appear for lunch, I am grateful that the noise from the prominently featured loudspeakers (as well as the said fans) is being carefully controlled.
THE BAR: the ITV prog 'Girlfriends is being shot here. One of Kirsty Alsoppy's housy things has been shot here. — at The Island.
Entry is still via the bar on the ground level. The owners say they specialise in giving their venues 'character and style'. With the ISLAND they have tried to imprint the new 'style' on a much-loved character. Well, the wood panelling and bar area succeeds in adding to a nice, tight space in which punters can explore and see what's on store. But the multitude of framed pictures purporting to be 'Harlesden' feels like overkill to me. It’s similar to watching plasma screens...with all the energy-sapping efficiency that implies.
 
The main point is this: time has clearly been spent turning the ISLAND into a place where you would want to come more than once a week. And to make that happen you need to have quality eats, quality drinks and quality staff.
 
Part of the problem with the brewing industry is that too many pubs fob us off with cheap and ugly beer. The ISLAND’s owners opt for the alternative, and I applaud them for this. There’s a regular rotation of ales on draft, and all of them are recommendable. The staff members are quite friendly: they’re led by Ian, a Merseyside man who serves as an excellent foil to those supporters of London-based football clubs.
 
The area below the bar has been converted into a snug little nook called (reasonably enough) ‘The Snug’. It’s another tight space; but roomier. This area is good for private bookings, community meetings, pub quizzes...or just getting away from the bar area. The old TV (plasma, of course) is still there: if it offends your gaze there are corners where you hide from it. Just buy the Becks, and it’s all good.
THE SNUG: where the Experiment used to live. Read more of my other stuff to find out where it lives now. — at The Island.

I’ve saved the best for last. Food at the ISLAND has been a let-down since Luke left the previous set-up: but with chef Oliver Seal in charge of the restaurant, the glory days are back. Alex is in charge of desserts, and sous chef Scott makes sure that Oliver’s standards (transferred from the successful Mayfair eatery ‘The Only Running Footman’) are meticulously met. I note that plate after plate is served to many a happy customer.

 
I am not a restaurant critic; I’m a musician who really likes food. I am more than happy to say I enjoyed Sunday Lunch at the ISLAND. Quibble about the price if you must: you won’t care because the quality is there on the plate.
I must not eat this. I must not eat this. I must not eat this. I must not eat this. I mummpf grrup slllp yum. — at The Island.
I had the Suffolk chicken roast, which was very good value at fourteen quid. Perfect with a Suffolk cider, I think. And I went back the following Wednesday and sampled a brioche bap of pulled pork and smoked bacon plus apple sauce on the side. Excellent with a pint of ‘Proper Job’: thank you very much.
 
There you have it – a thousand or so words about my local pub. Check it out yourselves and see if I’m right. And if you want to know about the sweets...don’t ask me. I’m a meat man, not a restaurant critic.
 
 
THE ISLAND ****
 
123 College Road, London NW10 5HA
Open weekdays from 12:00 to 11:30 (except Friday): open on Friday from 12:00 to midnight. Lunch is served from 12 to 4: dinner is served from 6 to 10:00pm.
Open on Saturday from 10:00 when brunch is served until 5. Dinner is served from 6 to 10:30pm.
Sunday Roasts, Bloody Marys, hot  sausage rolls, newspapers and board games available from midday: with service ending at 9:30pm.
Disabled access and toilet facilities on the ground floor.
 
Tel: 0208 960 0693 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
twitter @theislandnw10
 
The Island is listed as a venue here 
 
Wills Morgan writes regularly for the Source Mag with exclusive music reports  and local  reviews - see links below
 
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