Wednesday, 20 February 2013

John Salt Part II - All Smoke, No Mirrors

John Salt @JohnSaltN1
131 Upper street, Islington

John Salt opened in November with Ben Spalding at the helm, with his much revered taster menus & bar menu. Much praise was lavished, including from us, but it was all cut short rather abruptly, with Ben replaced with Neil Rankin, former head chef of Pitt Cue Co. Neil was already in talks to go into another one of the 580 ltd group's pubs at the Owl & Pussycat in Shoreditch. Looks like John Salt have pulled another Ace out of their sleeve with this new signing, with food cooked on another spectrum (or a big green egg). With Rankin's renowned expertise with all things meat and barbeque and some rather exquisite Asian influenced dishes, the place is a haze again with recent glowing reviews in Timeout and the Metro, as well as from the smoke in the kitchen

While the upstairs area, where we have been sat before, is now unsurprisingly increasingly difficult to get a booking for, downstairs isn't too bad, as long as you don't mind sharing the large communal tables. At off peak times there is enough space for walk ins. It's a strange set up to have a reservation for an undetermined place on one of the 3 large communal tables, thankfully it wasn't that busy though by the time we got there for a late lunch. A testament to the fresh produce that arrives at John Salt, Neil had posted this on his twitter just before we arrived, safe to say I knew I was going to have a plate of native prawns (£5) before I even walked in the door. We also ordered the burnt leeks, with parmesan and egg yolk (£4).

Grilled prawns

Service is a bit hit and miss, and with the staff (while pleasant) are so casually dressed it's hard to work out who was the waitress and who were customers shuffling there way back to their seats. It was half an hour before we even got our drinks, nevermind the food. It really cuts against the grain, the set up seems very in tune with high turnover with the communal tables and stools, yet was so much different in reality. This can be partially forgiven though as the food is a revelation, the grilled prawns to be eaten whole were crunchy and flavourful, a texture combination I'm not really used to, traditionally peeling them, but wow this was an unexpected delight. The burnt leeks were fantastic, the parmesan and rich egg yolk coming together well with the BBQed leeks, perfect comfort food. 

Burnt leaks with parmesan and egg

After another lengthy wait, the mains of the pork hash (£12) and skirt steak with kimchi hollandaise (£10!) arrived. To say this is just 'good pub food' is doing it a tremendous disservice, but these are simple dishes, cooked uniquely, and to perfection, using the best and freshest produce (most from Cornwall) that fits hand in hand with the ambience of the place. The pork hash is something of pure indulgence, cured pork belly, cubes of delicious pork far, pulled pork, peas and sweetcorn, roast potatoes, small chunks of apple and egg yolk to bring it. Not the most sexy of dishes, but damn it's good eating. With Rankin's panache for cooking meat in his big green egg, I had to go for the skirt steak, not the most popular of cuts, it is very chewy but a lot more flavoursome and beefy than ribeye. The steak is so charred on the outside you wouldn't have guessed at it's perfect pink of medium rare interior, showing off the barbequing skills on display. The kimchi hollandaise is the perfect accompaniment with the sauce bringing a tang that complements the steak beautifully. With frites and keveral salad on the side as well we were more than adequately fed.

Pork Hash

The food here is a great advert for the fantastic produce available from Cornwall. More and more restaurants seem to be catching onto this, with Cornish Grill supplying many a place, including John Salt & Pitt Cue Co. While it is sometimes lost on the customer to put down the suppliers on the menu, knowing produce is from such reputable sources is surely a good thing. If you are ever down in Cornwall, I can recommend it be worth your while checking out Philip Warren Butchers, in addition to the good surf, beautiful coastline towns and villages. With top sourcing such as this, half the battle is already won. The rest is brought with a menu and style of cooking you will struggle to find in the rest of the UK, let alone London.

Skirt steak - medium rare with kimchi hollandaise
It's a shame then that the service somewhat lets things down. On a Saturday lunch I didn't expect to be there for nearly 2 hours with only 2 courses down. We both had things to do and places to go, so unfortunately had to forgo the dessert that I was looking forward to; possibly would have gone for the banana dog or bacon panna cotta. Despite the quality, and value, of the food it's a great disservice that I have to second guess my next visit. Maybe we were just unlucky. That said I highly recommend a visit if you haven't already been the food here is really on the money.

- Owen

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1 comment:

  1. I have to say that I was there in mid march and the food wasn't that good at all, even though the service wasn't as bad. To be honest, I don't think I'll be going back, which is a shame since I live quite close.

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