It’s like pub food, but without the pub.
Update 3/1/14 – this restaurant has now closed
I love haute cuisine and fine dining, but sometimes, especially after a long day at the office, all I want is something comforting and soothing to eat. The S&M Cafe could be just the thing.
The ‘S&M’ in S&M Cafe stands for sausage and mash (tsk, stop sniggering in the back and get your mind out of the gutter), although it does serve other comfortingly stodgy dishes, such as various pies and chicken and chips. There are only a couple of branches across London – I’m most familiar with the one on Essex Road in Islington. The tiled walls, formica counter and glass topped tables with album cover prints underneath give the place a charming retro caff feel, with the occasional trendy lampshade or oddly-shamped cushion reminding you that this is a modern Islington recreation.
The place was pretty quiet on my Friday night visit apart from a few couples and a gaggle of students lining their stomachs for a night out. Service was a little slow, although I can forgive this given that it was just one poor woman looking after the front of the house.
When ordering sausages and mash, you choose two or three sausages from a small menu which includes a rotating list of special guest bangers. I opted for a lamb and rosemary sausage, a cumberland sausage and, as a nod to my vegetarian companions, a gorgonzola and butternut squash sausage.
The lamb and rosemary tasted very distinctive, almost like a lamb chop in sausage form, so much so that I wonder if there are any artificial flavourings at work. If there’s any beef or pork filler, then it’s well-hidden. It’s lip-smackingly good. The short, stunted cumberland was rather muted in comparison, lacking the peppery taste I tend to associate with a cumberland sausage.
Three meat and two veg for just £9.
The gorgonzola and butternut squash sausage wasn’t a success either. Lacking gorgonzola’s bite, it could have been made from any cheese, but at least the sweet, nutty taste of the squash was there. It also bore a rather disturbing resemblance to a fish finger.
Ever wondered what a gorgonzola and butternut squash sausage looks like? There you go.
All sausages come with a hearty dollop of peas and mashed potatoes. The mash wasn’t as creamy and buttery as other mashes, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether you’re dieting or not. The onion gravy was nice and tart. Surprisingly for a place outside of the North, the S&M Cafe gives you the option of mushy peas which I immediately opted for – I love the slightly salty taste and S&M’s version has some partially-crushed peas in the mixture for added character. Yum.
I once knew someone who mistook guacamole for mushy peas.
If I had been sensible I would’ve stopped eating, but I can’t resist apple crumble and custard. The crumble had a slightly crunchy bite to it which was very satisfying, but the apple filling was far too hot. Even when it had cooled a little, it was a bit too soft and lacking in flavour for my liking. The custard was comfortingly creamy though and not too sweet either.
Nice crumble. Apart from the apple inside.
To wash it all down I opted for the milkshake of the day – banana and peanut butter. Although the shake was surprisingly watery, instead of being thick and creamy, it did successfully capture and combine the sweet tang of a banana with the unmistakable taste of peanut butter.
Five quatloos for the first person to tell me which album cover that is.
The S&M Cafe does indeed serve up simple, generally satisfying food – it really is like pub food served in caff-like surroundings. Having said that, apart from the lamb and rosemary sausage, the sausages aren’t as flavourful or firm as the Biggles sausages served up at lunchtime by the King and Queen pub in Fitzrovia, but then the King and Queen doesn’t serve dinner. S&M’s biggest problem though is the Islington branch of Byron just around the corner. S&M have to try harder against such formidable competition to bring me back to their formica tables on a regular basis.
Name: S&M Cafe Essex Road
Address: 4-6 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN
Phone: 020 7359 5361
Opening Hours: daily 08:30-23.00; last orders 30 minutes before closing.
Reservations: not really necessary.
Total cost for one person including soft drink: £18 approx.