‘We offer a good bit of arty sustenance – for the soul and tummy’

Primrose Hill café with fizzy atmosphere hums with happy customers

Thursday, 9th June — By Tom Moggach

Sam’s Cafe 18-Eating Out

SAM’S Café is described as a greasy spoon – but without the grease. It’s certainly a love letter to the traditional British café, tweaked and upgraded for the lucky locals of Primrose Hill.

For nearly two years, Sam’s Café has traded on a corner of Chalcot Road, a site previously occupied by French restaurant L’Absinthe.

Until this week I had never visited – although heavens knows why.

Open until late, it hums with happy customers. Start your day with boiled egg and soldiers; or end it with grilled mackerel on dill toast and a glass of Pinot Grigio.

The owners of Sam’s Café are long-time friends Sam Frears and Andrew O’Hagan, who runs it with his wife Lindsey Milligan.

The trio have stellar careers in the creative arts – film, books, theatre – which explains the unique and fizzy atmosphere of their joint venture.

“We offer a good bit of arty sustenance – for the soul and tummy,” explains Milligan, who was quietly working on her laptop at the back of the room.

They exhibit the work of artists on the walls: the sketched portraits of Gaby Wood, perhaps, or a series of collagraphs titled “Animals for an Endangered Alphabet.”

You’ll find magazine racks loaded with magazines and back issues of the London Review of Books; adverts for Zumba and Tai Chi classes pinned on the notice board. Novels and children’s books are stuffed in the bookshelves; there’s a vintage jukebox and photos of Primrose Hill from years gone by. Downstairs, the function room is a popular spot for book launches and eclectic supper clubs.

I came for breakfast, picking one of the more exotic options – Turkish cilbir with chilli, dukkah and toast. This dish consists of two poached eggs served on yoghurt spiked with aromatics such as coriander and fennel seeds, dill and chives (£9).

The breakfast rolls were irresistible, too – in my case, slices of golden fried halloumi lubricated with a harissa mayo (£4). The breakfast menu, in fact, is a genius piece of design. There’s a lavish Full English; a plant-based option with vegan sausage, smashed avocado, Portobello mushroom, tomato, spinach, bubble and squeak, homemade baked beans and toast (both £12).

Riffs on eggs include Royale, Florentine and Benedict; you can bolt on cheeky extras such as crumbled feta cheese, black pudding or bacon bits.

The lunch and dinner menu is available from 12-9pm, starring bestsellers such as fishcakes or “Sam’s Favourite Spag Bol.” There’s often a fish of the day, such as a seared tuna Niçoise salad.

For pudding, dig into a classic Knickerbocker Glory or grilled peaches with ricotta and a pistachio crumb.

Sam’s Café is guaranteed to lift the spirits – at any time of the day. The business is perfectly pitched for its location and 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 such fun bringing it to life.

Sam’s Café
40 Chalcot Road, NW1
020 7916 3736

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