Tucked away in the residential backstreets of Jericho, away from the bright lights and cocktail bars that line Walton Street, lies an unassuming watering hole surrounded by equally unassuming houses.
But to judge the Old Bookbinders by its environs would be a gross error, as stepping through the small green door, one is greeted by a haven for ale-enthusiasts and epicures alike. Curios line the walls – in the form of signs, bottles, jars, saloon doors and newspaper cuttings – as well as the ceiling, which holds a model train set, but the charm does not stop there: The Old Bookbinders is a family-run establishment, taken over 18 months ago by Josh, who comes to greet us warmly, and his father, Michel – a French chef who has run a string of successful restaurants, of which the Bookbinders is the latest.
Seated at a rustically romantic table by the window, beside a well-stocked cookery book shelf, we started with a pint of Temple of Love – their featured Valentine’s Day ale – and a glass of Merlot, as well as houmous, olives and bread to nibble on. As someone who is not partial to ale, believe me when I say that the Temple of Love was smooth and tasty enough to inspire me to order a pint of my own; a sign that they take their duties as an ale house as seriously as they do their commitment to quality food.
Incidentally, Michel asserts that they are not a restaurant, but rather a pub that serves food, in order to preserve the casual, convivial air sought by seasoned regulars, whilst also catering for those in search of a bite to eat.
And what a bite it was. Half a dozen snails, still sizzling in golden pools of garlic butter, made their way to our table, accompanied by tongs, forks, and fresh bread to assist us in devouring them. The pub’s fare is classically French, yet the warm, English surroundings and the obliging service remove any trace of the haughty snobbery with which it is usually presented.
As such, other options include a charcuterie platter as well as classics like coq au vin, a dish on their ‘Famous £6 Menu’. In the same vein, we continued with an entrecôte-frites, cooked to scarlet perfection and drenched with the same heady, rich garlic butter as the escargots, and the Benicàssim burger: a beef burger with bacon, cheddar, and a fried free-range egg whose golden yolk streamed attractively down the sides of the burger.
The portions were more than generous, with no hint of the ghastly nouvelle cuisine trend’s having touched the place; if the quality was fine-dining restaurant standard, the portions were those of a doting mother whose love is poured into every plateful.
Unfortunately, the famous crème brûlée with amaretto and apricots was not available on the night we dined; fortunately, though, Michel is famous for his crêpes, both sweet and savoury (a variety of the latter feature on the £6 menu, filled with delightful combinations with many diverse influences), so we indulged in those instead.
The decision was certainly the right one, and we can see why Michel’s catering company, What A Load of Crêpes, enjoys such success. One – lemon and sugar with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream – was light, zesty and refreshing, whilst still buttery and rich, and the other – an indulgent combination of Belgian milk chocolate and banana with a scoop of chocolate ice cream – was creamy and almost sickly but far too good to stop eating, each bite bringing childish delight.
Exquisite and plentiful though the food and ale may be at the Old Bookbinders, they’re certainly not the only attractive aspects of the place: the staff, even when busy, are personable, attracting a loyal band of regulars with their charm as well as their grog.
Little jokes, such as a front door with two handles and a third toilet door, labelled ‘not sure’, in addition to ‘ladies’ and ‘gents’, mark it out from countless other homogenous drinkeries; weekly pub quizzes, open mic nights and monthly live gigs inject a relentless energy into the delightful venue; and to top it off, the prices are surprisingly reasonable, allowing you to easily get a filling three-course meal for under £20, which is no mean feat in this city.
It’s no wonder that locals and students alike are enamoured with the place, returning again and again for a taste of France, a sip of England and the hospitality of home. If the first experience wasn’t enough to convince us, the promise of Michel’s special ‘moules-frites Fridays’ is more than enough to win us over. See you there!