'Barnes Motors’ announces the overhead signage, indicating the building’s former life. The frontage of black-painted folding doors with wire-reinforced glass still resembles a drive-in garage, maybe somewhere you’d bring your swag-stuffed getaway car for a respray. But despite their ominous appearance, these doors can open wide, revealing the interior to the leafy street. Inside, the place is pristine and painted white; though the open kitchen contains so much shiny steel you wonder if the staff can still do a bit of panel-beating and priming on the side.
The much smaller sign ‘Primeur’ refers not to paint, but to wine. Investors buy young casks of wine ‘en primeur’, years before it’s bottled, in the hope that the contents will mature into something vauable and sought-after. It’s as much an act of faith as good judgement.
Primeur the restaurant also requires an act of faith. There is no phone number, it’s a 15-minute walk from the nearest station, and this residential area has few dining alternatives if you don’t manage to get in. Yet Primeur is a gamble worth taking.
A solitary blackboard menu lists the day’s dishes: Italian- and French-accented but with seasonal British ingredients at their core. Pan-fried lamb sweetbreads were seared then crumbled like cauliflower florets, their richness cut with a sharp dressing then topped with crisp pancetta and pea shoots to vary the texture. Equally masterful was a fillet of cod, garnished with brown shrimps, cucumber dice and savoury pan juices. A third dish confirmed where this kitchen’s strength lies. Spelt was cooked like risotto, the grains served with broad beans. It’s simple food, the sort you want to eat, but not at all showy.
Primeur’s a heartfelt operation with a passion for wine and a lot of thought put into using the suppliers that matter: crusty sourdough loaves from Bridget Hugo’s Bread Bread bakery, runny French cheeses from importer Mons. From the hundred-bin cellar, staff pick a dozen or so wines for the day’s blackboard list, many sold by the glass. We recommend tasting before committing, as some of the ‘minimal intervention’ wines are wild cards. Our glass of Litrozzo natural wine tasted of cider but was replaced with good grace.
Primeur appears to be a smarter investment than many: it passes its MOT with no advisories, and is already showing signs of becoming – among Highbury eateries – a very nice little runner.