Monday, 26 November 2012

John Salt

I managed to secure an early reservation for the restaurant at John Salt, which I've heard is already booking up for the duration of it's 6 month residency.  Heading up the kitchen is Ben Spalding, previously of Roganic, which was my favourite restaurant meal of 2011 and many, it seems, are as keen as I was to see what he's up to now.

Having recently moved to Angel, I am also very happy to see an interesting new opening on the otherwise dire Upper Street (save for Pho Express, maybe Byron).  We went for the 8 course tasting menu for £56, they also offer 4 courses for a very reasonable £28, plus there are added extra pre and post meal nibbles.  On Friday night there's a 12 course menu and a roast on Sundays.  Menus are designed in the style of a tube line, blue or red depending on the number of courses you opt for.

I arrived early so sat at the surprisingly empty bar area for a drink, there's a separate bar menu on offer downstairs which is available for walk ins.  Cocktails were good and reasonably priced, albion highball (£7.50) for me and the John Salt martini (£4.50) for Art.

The tasting menu unfolded as follows:-

Nibbles - miso soup was the star, shortrib shin beignets with aioli were also great and in the 
middle, potato crisps with orange marmalade

The bread was magnificent.  Fruit loaf, rosemary bread, a little beer muffin and a cheese thin 
came with 3 different butters served on Himalayan pink salt.  Decadent.

The first of the 8 courses, 35 ingredient salad.  Beautiful, simple and fresh, served on top 
of some sour cream, apparently left out to 'mature' at 25 degrees for 3 days.  
Ingredients are listed on an accompanying bit of paper.

Next up, hen of the woods.  I expected egg but it's a mushroom, of course.  Poached, then roasted, served on ketchup with douglas fir (xmas tree) crumbs, persimmon juice and lettuce.

Then a scallop sandwich with kiwi and culatello (parma ham).  To be eaten with 
your hands, winter truffle shaved at the table, lovely cider butter.  I really liked this,
couldn't taste the truffle though.

Next up, the now famed chicken on a brick.  Liver parfait with lingonberries,
sweetcorn, chicken skin and caramel.  To be licked off the brick.  We got involved.

Then came the maple syrup poached wild salmon with rotten mango juice, kaffir lime
creme fraiche, toasted almonds and dill.  The texture of the salmon provided the
wow factor of this dish, it literally disintegrated when forked.

The vacherin risotto was delicious.  I was most looking forward to this as I read the menu
at the start of the meal, canaroli rice with vacherin cream, grilled cucumber vinegarette
with duck skin and chive oil.  It was hearty and rich, loved the crispy skin.

Next up was my favourite dish.  The heel of beef cooked in wine, served with
kimchi, carrot puree, bok choi and a jug of cooking juice which was powerfully intense.
Loved this, again the texture of the meat was mind blowing, so so good.

Onto dessert and for both of us, this was a little disappointing.  We wanted sweetness, and
sugar but instead we got fennel!  Marinated in absinthe, with chewy rapeseed cake,
blackberries, lemon thyme and tonka bean ice cream.  Nice, but not enough sugar for us.
And, I know it's a thing, savoury ingredients are used in desserts, but I'm not happy about it.

What was brilliant was the little jar of spiced apple and pomegranate fizz, served as a
palate cleanser, then with gin which was a lovely end to the meal and I'd thoroughly
recommend you treat yourself to that as a digestiv.

Salted chocolate with milk sorbet and hazelnuts.  This was more like it, sweet and
sticky, a dessert proper.  And there's the gin in the background.

We drank a bottle of La Casada for a very reasonable £20 and a couple more glasses when we ran out.  The whole meal came to £90 a head, and with so many extras thrown in, and a fair bit of booze, it felt like pretty good value.

I'd read that the acoustics in the building make for very noisy dining, but this wasn't a problem on this occasion, the bar did fill up later in the evening and the upstairs dining area was full (there are only 8 tables).  I did find it a little odd that there was nobody greeting new arrivals at the front, it's definitely a relaxed and casual affair downstairs, find a seat and sit at it but I suppose this is good, it's really unstuffy and service was brilliant once we moved upstairs at 8.  We were the last people to leave and never felt at all rushed.

I enjoyed John Salt and would certainly return, the bar area with a chef's table at the front where a really interesting sounding selection of bar food is assembled entices me.  The greasy chicken skin sandwich particularly appeals.  Upstairs the chefs bring out and explain some of the dishes to you, which I think is a lovely thing.   They even use my favourite skincare brand, Aesop, in the loos.  Get down there, 5 and half months to go.

John Salt
131 Upper Street
N1 1QP

John Salt on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

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