So I came back to Camden; the scent of poppers and jerk chicken; the bobbing sea of electric-dyed hair and shiny piercings that glint in the sunlight reflected off the Regent’s canal. It’s almost enough to make me feel nostalgic for the mornings spent pouring over bootlegged records and cones of chips and afternoons drinking lager in sticky-carpeted pubs. *almost*.
On this occasion there was little time for reminiscing as we were heading for brunch at Bird – the third branch of the fried chicken and doughnut mini-chain - before schlepping out to the far North west corner of the borough for the second stop on the Brutaltour.
Even better, they were having a delayed soft launch on our visit, with 50% off food for the weekend. Although our eagerness to eat chicken and drink beer, coupled with a delay in opening their doors, meant we had half an hour to browse the market and reminisce about our misspent youth. Although in my heyday it was more about Cyberdog and Nirvana T-shirts as opposed to the posh coffee and nitrogen ice cream I enjoyed on my last visit.
Anyway, back to brunch, and Bird stands out on the Kentish Town Road with its bright orange crest of a sign. Inside is kitted out with all the exposed brick and strip lighting you could wish for, although the tunes were resolutely old school, the highlight being Ja Rule and J Lo’s ‘I’m Real’ a song that not only does The Ewing know all the words to, but had also invented a little dance as she sang along. The best entertainment while waiting for our food.
The hipster-ness is cranked up to eleven with a beer menu that offers PBR, the sweet and fizzy American lager from Milwaukee that has found favour with the new beard and plaid generation who work in urban lofts rather than sawmills. It may have all the complexity of a pint of R Whites but, like the lemonade, when served ice cold it makes a great foil to spice and grease.
The waffles served with my fried chicken were delicately pale, like my Irish ancestors (I, sadly, inherited the pink gene), and I feared undercooked clagginess. Thankfully, my suspicions were unalloyed as the ‘doneness’ was spot on; crisp without and fluffy within. They also paired very well with the crisp-crusted chicken and side of smoky maple syrup - a winning combo if you like that sweet and savoury thing.
In comparison the star of the show, the fried chicken, was somewhat lacklustre, which was a shame as the whole concept hinges on it. It wasn’t bad, per se, but at seven quid for a drumstick and a small chunk of breast, it didn’t compare to a recent visit to Chick N Sours and was probably on par with the fast-food variety box I may have drunkenly consumed last weekend. Wings fared better and I liked the Nashville extra hot sauce, even if it lacked the powerful chilli punch the name suggested.
Sides wise, we both hungrily fought over the cheesy korean cheese fries with house kewpie mayo and gochujang glaze - which were excellent, although conservatively portioned – but the pickled cucumber was a bit of a let-down, featuring a few wan slices of fruit in an unremarkable dressing that made me want to visit Silk Road where they know how to smack a cucumber up.
While the Ewing was disappointed they didn’t run the full gamut of deserts offered at their other branches – including the retro banana split with squirty cream – I was more than happy they had freshly baked doughnuts, and even more so when I saw one of the daily flavours was cinnamon sugar. For me this was the highlight of brunch; a fluffy orb of warm dough, generously stuffed with vanilla ice cream and decorated with plenty of strawberry sauce and the aforementioned aerosol cream.
The bill came in at thirty quid, which included tip and a seventeen pound soft opening discount for the food. Decent value with the money off, but had we paid in full I think the phrase cheap at half the price would have been more apt. Still, not a bad option if you’re in the area and with a fried chicken and blue collar beer craving. You can also grab fresh doughnuts to takeaway, available fresh daily, from 11 until sold out.
After lunch we made the second stop on my Brutalist architecture adventure that took us over Primrose Hill (it's windy there, but the view is so nice) to the magnificent Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate.
After first seeing the estate featured in the final episode of Prime Suspect I've wanted to visit Rowley Way and, even on a steel grey February afternoon, it didn't disappoint. Like it or loathe it this is an estate with real character, from the grey and green concrete to the bright blue railings. There's also a huge number of palm trees and tropical plants on the balconies, giving a whole new meaning to urban jungle.
This distinguished development was designed in 1968 by Neave Brown of Camden Council's Architects Department as an attempt to eschew the high rises that were cropping up across the capital and an answer to London's social housing shortage. Completed in 1978 the estate is constructed from site-cast, unpainted reinforced concrete, so beloved of the brutalists, and in 1994 became the first post-war council housing estate to be Grade II listed.
Instead of building up into the skies, he favoured a Ziggurat design of successively receding split level maisonettes, each with their own private outdoor area. This design also means the higher block directly adjacent to the railway line acts as a noise barrier that blocks the noise of the trains.
A must see for any modernists, and if you fancy seeing what's behind the frosted glass, look out for Open House London in September where selected flats on the A&A Estate can often be visited. Find out more about the place - including a chance to watch 'One Below the Queen: Rowley Way Speaks for Itself', a film featuring the estate's residents - link.