Opening a new boozer on the site of a beloved local institution can be a tricky proposition. But the folks behind Stoke Newington’s new beer-nerd destination The Axe have done a bang-up job, retaining everything that worked at Jan’s Belgian beer bar – the dim, cosy atmosphere, extensive ale selection and welcoming vibe – and adding a bright, airy, pine-lined smoking yard along with a captivating food menu.
The drinks selection is frankly ludicrous. There are more than 60 beers on offer (22 of them on tap), ranging from a pint of Camden Lager for less than a fiver (a near-miracle in Stoke Newington) to an 11 percent monstrosity called Marshall Zhukov’s Imperial Stout that costs, I kid you not, £33 for 75cl. You can also choose from eight different gin and tonics and a perfectly serviceable wine list. Oh, and they do negronis on tap, which are flat-out gorgeous.
The food is every bit as impressive, with starters and bar snacks several storeys up from your standard sausage roll. Try the olives Ascolane, a kind of Italian scotch egg minus the egg, using olives stuffed with veal. The ’nduja on sourdough toast was finger-licking greasy, smoky and heavily spiced, while halloumi chips were as thick as my thumb and dripped with sticky-sweet pomegranate molasses. Beyond gastropub bases, I tried grilled lamb chops, fat and juicy and lying on a heap of hearty, balsamic-rich Sicilian caponata; and mellow, salty-sharp king scallops on lemon risotto.
At heart, The Axe is a modest, fairly affordable local pub for local people. It just happens to get everything spot on. Get in now before it’s swamped by the Stokey masses.