Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Alpino Islington Chapel Market review - it's the small things that count


Address: 97 Chapel Market
London N1 9EY
Tel: 020 7837 8330
Nearest Tube station: Angel

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: Below £10pp
Service charge: N/A
Taste: **
Service: ***
Ambience: ***
Coming to London was a rushed decision - something that was decided within a week. Other than a Culture Shock (London), a London A-Z and a travel guide, which name I can no longer recall, we didn't know much about the city. Call it imprudent if you will but we were a whole lot more adventurous back then.

In that edition of the travel guide, there was a write up of the top ten small cafes in London and Alpino along Islington Chapel Market was listed among them. While that obviously wasn't a consideration why we settled down in Angel, but it definitely was a bonus.

Interestingly, we didn't get to visit it once. When we popped by a month after we settled down in London, there was a sign on display saying that the owner was travelling with no return date whatsoever. Fine, we thought. We'd be back a couple of weeks later. Afterall, how long can one be out travelling for?

Very long apparently for the owner didn't return. For the longest time, the cafe just stood vacant. Well, at least it was every single time we walked past. It reopened the recently but with some words stenciled to its glass display - "Italian Snack Bar", it says. Alpino has undergone some management change no doubt but would it still retain the charm that got it onto the travel guide in the first place? I had to find out.

"...he placed the lasagna
on the table. “Enjoy,”
he gave a reassuring smile
with a twinkle in his eye."
“Please take a seat,” a matronly woman standing behind the counter gestured towards the back of the café when I stepped in that afternoon. It was 2pm and the weekday lunchtime crowd had yet to dissipate. There was a healthy buzz in the air, that of a local coffeeshop, which you would pop by for a quick meal and expect nothing more. The pricing was just about right too – a quick glance at the menu showed most if not all the items were going for under a fiver.

The new owner made no qualms about being a sports fan; one wall was adorned with 8 inches by 10 inches photos of football stars while another was filled with boxers and sport cars. Sauces on the table were simply named as red or brown sauce. I was almost disappointed to find out that the red sauce was, well, ketchup.

My lasagna (£4.60) arrived piping hot soon after. It was homemade according to the menu and it did taste homemade. The copious amount of Béchamel mozzarella made it very clingy. Some more was sprinkled liberally on it after it was out of the oven making it almost powdery. Not exactly pleasant to the palate.

Curiously, if there’s one thing that I remember Alpino by, it would be the service. No, not the woman who stood perpetually behind the counter, and definitely not the unsmiling young waitress who brought me my tea. But the elderly gentleman who brought me my powdery pasta. With a very pleasant grandfatherly demeanor, he placed the lasagna on the table. “Enjoy,” he gave a reassuring smile with a twinkle in his eye. Funny how one’s day could be brightened up just like that.

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