Sunday, 7 April 2013

John Salt, Islington

John Salt, perhaps one of the most talked about restaurants of the last year. Notorious for the sudden departure of Ben Spalding, but quickly snapped up by Neil Rankin, former Pitt Cue Co. chef, turning that notoriety into excitoriety (is that a word? no?). Having read ample reviews by respected London bloggers and journalists singing its praises, we happily killed two hours in a nearby pub waiting for an appropriate time at which to eat dinner. I later realised that despite never having lived in London, I have managed to frequent said pub with every boyfriend I've had since I was 17. Irrelevant detail, but I'm not sure how this has happened: it's a pretty average pub. And therein, I think, lies the secret of what makes John Salt so revered, so talked about. Upper Street appears to be full of fairly average establishments.

To my unfamiliar eyes, Upper Street is by no means a dump or a dive, but rather row after row of perfectly pleasant seeming bars and restaurants, offering nothing in particular to catch the eye (perhaps apart from House of Wolf!) until you get to John Salt. (Particularly if you're walking down from Highbury and Islington, as opposed to up from Angel). It's early evening on a Monday but the sweet French waitress appears to struggle to squeeze us in, initially sitting us uncomfortably close to another couple, though eventually moving us a seat up to give us room to breathe (though still not enough room to take photos without essentially shouting "HEY LOOK I WRITE A FOOD BLOG" - hence the lack of in this post).

We begin proceedings with drinks. I take a so-so Albion Highball, and J opts for the Beer Glass Mary Snapper. I'm not sure what made them decide to put cheese and crackers with the latter, but it seemed a bit silly (and crumbly). I'm intrigued by the cod cheeks starter (mainly because we're cooking them for our supper club) which I learn is a new dish on the menu, and Jamie, rather unusually, goes all veggie and picks the 'burnt leeks, parmesan, egg yolk, truffle vinaigrette'. Mine arrives and the waiter seems genuinely interested to hear what I think of it, but has disappeared by the end of the course so am unable to impart my wise and wonderful critique of the minute starter to his otherwise-engaged ears. There's nothing much to say about it: cod cheeks, cooked well, seasoned with a light scattering of tasty heritage tomatoes. Jamie's starter is rich and unctuous.

My main was decided before I reached the restaurant. It was always going to be the Onglet steak with kimchi hollandaise. Recommended rare, it was slightly too rare in the middle for my tastes, though well seasoned and the accompanying sauce was a TASTE SENSATION. I rarely capitalise in posts but this calls for it. The sharp, spiciness of the kimchi married beautifully with the creamy, classic French sauce, leaving me wishing I'd requested to purchase a tub of this cheekily wonderful sauce on departure from the restaurant. Jamie's pork hash, with belly pork, black pudding and egg yolk, mixed together with sweetcorn and peas and massive roasties was inelegant to say the least - but that's okay, I won't denigrate them for that. The roast potatoes reminded me of the best kind I used to get on school, usually if you were served one of the last in the queue: huge beasts that the dinner ladies were obviously saving for themselves but a pesky child rolled up late waiting to be fed, with a beautifully crisp exterior (the potatoes, not the pesky child). Yummy is how I would describe this dish; something comforting to eat on a night when you can't really be bothered to cook... which, I guess, is what hash is. Whilst £12 is by no means steep for a main, I'm not sure I'd pay that again. We also had 'aged beef dripping fries'. For God's sake guys, if you're gonna call them that, then at least make sure they taste like it, and not fairly similar to a well-known burger chain.....

Slightly disappointed with some aspects of the meal so far, we were sure it could be salvaged by the bacon panna cotta (which we shared: Jamie suddenly decided he couldn't even finish his main for chrissakes!). The panna cotta itself - milk infused with bacon - was rather beautiful, and served in a glass, as Jamie constantly tells me they always should be (apparently if it can stand on its own it has too much gelatine, who knew?!). I liked the added crunch of crumbled biscuity bacon bits on top, but the saltiness really unbalanced the dessert and I finished unsatisifed. Fortunately, John Salt do a great range of beers, and the Left Hand Brewing Co.'s Milk Stout saw me leave with a smile on my face.

Overall, the meal was fine - which my counselling colleague says stands for "fucking incapable of normal expression". In fact, John Salt was exactly the opposite - capable of very normal expression. Disappointingly normal in fact. If I lived in Islington, perhaps I'd frequent it with friends once every few months. Visting London from the far away north that is Manchester, I'm confident that I shall never return. Oh shit, I just remembered the kimchi hollandaise. Okay, maybe for that... if I'm passing.

John Salt
131 Upper Street
Islington, N1 1PQ
020 7704 8955

John Salt on Urbanspoon