Welcoming 2016 in North London Style


It was all a bit last-minute. Elsa and I were planning to meet up between Christmas and New Year and since neither of us had plans for New Year’s Eve, we decided to see the New Year in together. Making plans last minute at New Year isn’t always easy – what’s open? What still has space? Elsa suggested the panto showing at the King’s Head Theatre (above) in Islington’s Upper Street, put on by the Charles Court Opera and offering an ‘adult-only’ version. I wasn’t quite sure what I was letting myself in for! However, it was a 5.00pm start and a quick check online showed me that it had had brilliant reviews, so it looked like a fun way to see out one year and welcome in the next.

Islington is a former home: it’s where I lived when first married and had my kids. It always feels a little like going home whenever I go back there. The King’s Head Theatre is somewhere I haven’t been for a very very long time. It’s also a source of nostalgia to me for this theatre, founded in 1970, and the oldest and longest running pub theatre in UK, brings back memories of when I was first working at Methuen publishers in the 1970s. Methuen was the leading publisher of plays at the time and there would be editorial trips to see the latest Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill or Edward Bond play and pretty much any major playwright you could think of. The King’s Head theatre was known for its cutting edge, innovative and ground-breaking new plays. Judging by the panto last night, their reputation remains intact. It was the most marvellous production; an innovative take on the Snow White story (including Snow White having once been married to Barry White!). The CCO’s founder and resident dame John Savournin is an opera singer and thus the general music/singing standard was excellent. It was all hilarious. The adult audience took a little while to warm up to calling out and booing as kids love doing at pantos, but we got there. As for the adult take, well it was a little risqué but all in good fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. (To find out more about Charles Court Opera visit their website at: www.charlescourtopera.com; and for the theatre: www.kingsheadtheatre.com.)


Elsa had suggested eating at Gem, a Turkish & Kurdish restaurant in Upper Street and had booked us a table for 7.30 after the panto finished. I love Turkish food and another favourite restaurant, Pasha, is further down Upper Street. This is a great area for Turkish restaurants, delis and shops – a rarity in SW London where Italian dominates. Elsa told me that Gem was a friendly, relaxed and family-run place and it certainly proved to be so. We were warmly welcomed and soon a plate of Turkish stuffed bread – Qatme – was put before us, to nibble on while we chose from the menu.


We decided to opt for one of the set menus offering 3 courses for £14.95. It was quite a bargain – as well as delicious. A large selection of hot and cold mezze came first: humus, tabule, cacik, bakla, patlican, kisir, falafel and borek. It was all really good and I enjoyed it a lot.



And, of course, some Turkish bread:


We could choose any main dish from the à la carte (except for one speciality dish). Elsa chose a vegetarian main: Iman Bayildi – stuffed aubergine:


Although there were lots of my favourite Turkish dishes on the menu, I decided to branch out with something new and chose Ïskender: minced lamb on bread and yoghurt with melted butter and tomato sauce:


It was very good and I really liked it but couldn’t quite finish it after the large starter. The dessert just came (no choice with the menu) but a typical Turkish sweet cake (sekerpare) with some ice cream.


It was all very relaxed and the food excellent and we had no sense of hurry. And 2016 and was still about three hours away when we finished! We headed back down to the King’s Head pub where live music was promised. We were lucky enough to get a seat and stayed for a while listening to some 60s and 70s covers with a touch of blues and jazz. I was on tonic water without the gin as I was driving; Elsa opted for the gin addition. It was fun to be there – a great pub – but after a while we decided to head back to Elsa’s place. I had some champagne in the car so once we arrived, we turned the TV on and sat down to listen to Big Ben as it struck midnight and 2016 arrived, and watch the fantastic fireworks explode into the sky above the South Bank a few miles south. The champagne cork popped loudly and  we sipped our fizz and wished each other (and then family and friends via our smartphones!) a very happy new year.

I wish you all a happy and healthy new year!!!

Gem Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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