NORTH ROAD: GREAT
A lot people seem to be under the impression that DH's direct-from-the-gut approach to our food and restaurant posts are some sort of pose. Possibly something to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the food-blogging herd. They couldn't be further from the truth - we've always been loud, irascible and big-headed. And that's just our good qualities. Take for instance this post by HS from almost a decade ago where our trademark opinionated style is present and correct. Even in those salad days I still shamed restaurants into giving me more if I thought the portionage inadequate and my love of rough, clear spirits continues to this day.
It was only when I visited North Road restaurant the other night that I realised it was situated where the subject of that Chowhound post, The Clerkenwell Dining Rooms, had been. Before that I think it had been an outpost of the Stephen Bull (remember him?) empire and to be honest when I first walked in it reminded me of that place, light, pleasant but a bit anonymous.
I’d never made it up to Fig in Islington to try Christoffer Hruskova’s food before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I sat down as the lone diner in the restaurant, accompanied only by the strains of Al Green’s How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. Sob.
The menu descriptions looked blissfully straightforward although I wasn't always convinced they corresponded exactly with what I was eating. The taciturn waiters didn’t seem to be certain either. I was grateful however they hadn't gone down the route of christening the dishes with names like Memories of Helsingør or Jutland. Spring. Dusk. although there was the gratuitous use of the word "textures" in the pudding menu. Slap Hand.
The cooking would best be described as resolutely Northern European with the additional benefit of helping one to lose weight – there’s hardly a carb is to be seen here. So instead of the usual basket of bread (“zees ees whalnut, zees is a meenie baggette…etc”) I got three skins: one of cod, one of pork and one of chicken. Quite nice although the one of chicken was a bit chewy. Alongside were some little quail eggs that had been smoked.
Like the similarly experimental Coi in San Francisco which I visited earlier in the year, there is a fair bit of greenery and additional flourishes (one dish was like eating an exhibit at the Chelsea Flower show) that while not unpleasant doesn’t always feel like an improvement. In fact, at North Road, the strongest component of every dish I ordered was the primary protein which, with the exception of the lobster, was always of decent quality and cooked with precision.
So in the first starter of Scallops, the little bivalves were cooked perfectly with a slight blush of colour. I wasn’t sure what the bitter cress was bringing to the table although it was interesting in and of itself.
The little powdered horseradish was a nice touch as were the strips of apple, but as in some of the other dishes there was always the feeling there was possibly one ingredient too many.
Take for instance the Veal Sweetbreads – and don’t trust anyone who says the lamby version are just as good, they’re not – which were cooked just so: good colour on the outside but melting and soft on the inside. They were covered in a ghostly shroud of milk skin which added a sweet, creamy note. There were some small braised onions and pickled green elderberries that added a little acid touch. But then they had to go and add some pickled onions as well which basically killed all the other flavours.
The car-crash of the starters was the Cured Native Lobster and Buttermilk with Horseradish, Coastal Herbs and Vinaigrette. Now much as I like Sashimi I really believe that shellfish are immeasurably improved by the application of a bit of heat. And so it was here. The taste of the lobster didn’t come through and it was very salty. The rest of the dish was like a cold soup of hedgerow clippings. Edible, but only just.
Thankfully, mains were more conventional and excellent. A thick wedge of squeakily fresh Brill was perfectly cooked and sat on top of some bias-cut salsify that had been cooked in a sort of creamy sauce that I’m guessing wasn’t made from cream. The green stuff on the top had been made out of a sea vegetable and added a gentle briny taste. A lovely dish that could only have been improved with some of those elderberries.
The kitchen were getting into their stride now and a Veal three ways really hit the spot. A small fillet of baby cow was pink and delicious as was a roundel of the braised and shredded tail, the whole topped with shreds of Veal breast. I may have got the last two bits mixed up but in any case it was terrific cooking.
Such was the lightness of touch evident in all the dishes I managed to squeeze in a couple of puds. The word interesting probably best sums them up.
Jerusalem Artichokes and Sunflower seeds tasted like the Indian dish Kulfi covered in a light, creamy, moussey thing. Not unpleasant, probably twice as big as it needed to be.
Low Tide at Skagen…sorry, Liquorice and caramel in textures was a sort of caramel ice cream covered in, well, your guess is as good as mine. I didn’t detect the liquorice but the caramel was nice. Again, the portion was more generous that it needed to be (I know, a Hermano saying there was too much food. Scandalous). At least both dishes kept my insulin levels on an even keel.
Restaurants aren’t some sort of binary manifestation i.e. having one sort of gaff doesn’t preclude the presence of any other, so I always welcome anyone who brings something new and diverse to the dining scene. While I’m not as convinced as some of this new foraged ingredient-led style the fact that at North Road it’s allied to great ingredients and sure technique make it one of the better new openings in London. I’ll be returning.