Wednesday 9 November 2011

North Road

Farringdon is cool. Clerkenwell, Midtown, whatever you want to call it, is one of the best places in London to work, hang out, eat and drink. For my money it’s the best place in London to drink beer, and pretty high up on the list for everything else. It has buckets of history, side streets with hidden gems, big fancy bars and casual lunch spots, and serious drinking and eating destinations. An ideal place to take the other half for a post payday evening, which is what I did.
           Before dinner we stopped in at The Larder on St John Street, which anyone in the EC1 area should consider doing if you have an hour or four to spare. This is a proper restaurant, but skipping straight to the spirit menu at the bar, especially the gins, is the thing to do. Do let the barman upsell you; the good stuff is pricey but totally worth it, and the knowledge behind the bar is good enough to get you where you want to be. Their ‘Gin of the Month’, Bulldog, and Purity vodka, both with tonic, were excellent, although I will probably revert back to my favourites next time, like Sipsmiths or Chase.

Then on to the point of the evening, basically next door; North Road, a newish restaurant with an even newer Michelin star. This was motive enough to come and eat here, but the real reason was the frequent comparisons between this place and Noma, a super-restaurant in Copenhagen that should need no introduction, but usually gets a lengthy and reverential one. I have wanted to go for a while, but it would basically be a choice between lunch there or a place to live for a month – besides which they don’t let commoners like me book a table. So we went to what is apparently the closest thing to it in London.
           We opted for the restaurant equivalent of the cheap seats – ‘may have a restricted view’, with the 6-7pm pre-theatre menu, an absolute steal for £22, especially as this includes a glass of very decent Australian wine. Many acclaimed places offer a time-limited menu like this in town, but I haven’t been to one that does it better - most of the dishes appear word for word the same on the main menu, just for double the price.

                                                                             As with its Norwegian inspiration, North Road has a sincere dedication to all things local, fresh and wild, with a penchant for unusual ingredients and flavours. The ethos is simplicity and elegance, with as many foraged, raw elements as possible and handsomely presented. On this front it excels on almost every level. We were first given some canap├ęs – something falafel-esque made with dock leaves and dandelion, pickled quails eggs and some damn fine pork scratchings. Fresh bread was perhaps even better, served toasty warm in its own little sack with homemade butter – I was quickly approving of this place.
         Starters brought raw scallop slices decorated with herbs and rye, and a beef tartare with a quail’s yolk hidden amongst sorrel leaves. Minimal cooking, but everything tasting of itself and marrying perfectly, and presented with affection and care. A main course of sea bass and celeriac was arguably the highlight, with a burnt hay sauce lifting the flavour of both fish and vegetable to a different level. A slight misstep in overly firm artichokes was   overcome by a slick puree of the same root and a rich, flavourful mutton loin.

A quince and apple stack with toasted oat ice cream tasted of exactly that, and was pleasant enough. A carrot and sweet cicely desert was a symphony of colour and texture, crisp, refreshing raw carrots giving way to sugary, aniseedy ice cream and a sponge lighter than a Greek pension fund. Everything a dish at this calibre of restaurant should be – fun, memorable and different.
     After a very decent coffee and more service that suggested we were big spending regulars, it felt almost embarrassing to be parting with just 55 quid. Cooking of this quality is, thankfully, quite common in London – just across the street St. John prepares slightly more rustic dishes with the same accuracy and flavour. But cooking this precise, full of imagination and also restraint, and more importantly at this price, is very rare. I will certainly be returning for the front row seat that is the tasting menu (yours for £65), but as long as the pre-theatre is still on I will be coming early and often. Just follow the North Star.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant. Great blog entry and a cool looking place. That egg shell looks exactly like the one at Noma!