North Road restaurant – London

11 Dec

north road restaurant

There are good meals, there are great meals, then there are meals to forget. Then there’s an altogether different class of meal where the dining experience is fondly remembered in a fit of wistful daydreaming months or even years after the event. Thems are the rare ones, when boundary pushing chef combines with impeccable sourcing and razor sharp cooking. North Road has come closer than many in recent experience to achieving the latter.

First let’s get the boring stuff out of the way. You may have heard of Noma, the Copenhagen joint famous for being the ‘best restaurant in the universe’ and popularising a renaissance in modern Scandinavian cooking? Good. Well, North Road chef and proud Dane Christoffer Hruskova had been doing similar things for a goodly while at his north London restaurant Fig, before reaching for the (Michelin) stars with the opening of this place on a non-descript stretch of St John street.

The cooking is modern, inventive and very much out of the comfort zone of most of us Brits who have grown used to the flavours of the Mediterranean, France and even the Orient as if they were our own. What this means in practice is lots of smoking and pickling of ingredients and thinly sliced, raw veg alongside foraged herbs and the odd Scandinavian curiosity such as milk skin. Yes, milk skin. If you want rich creamy sauces or drizzles of olive oil, head elsewhere because this ain’t the place, don’t you know there’s a recession on?

Well, Hruskova clearly doesn’t given the prices (around £9 for starters, £17-24 for mains), although this is cooking of a very high standard, one Michelin star to be exact. As such, a trio of things to munch on arrive at our table while we choose between dishes such pickled and raw vegetable salad and Dorset brown crab with sea buckthorn, carrot and wild watercress. There’s sublime pork scratchings which immediately fill the somewhat sterile, hushed dining room with a cacophony of crackling; bland little fried dumplings filled with pearl barley; and a giant egg (fake) filled with hay, smoke and two perfectly soft yolked quails eggs (real).

All of which set the tone for the evening: modern, inventive and sublime in parts, slightly ill-judged in others. Ditto the starters. A hare dish came as little towers of loin, seared almost as briefly as good tuna, with comice pear and a small mound of pulled hare leg cooked in what I think was billed as some kind of liquorice sauce, and covered with a thin sheen of pear aquavit jelly. Yup, it’s pretty intricate stuff, looking great and mostly hitting the right notes, except at this level of cooking you don’t really want the hare leg over seasoned as it was.

Mains fared better. Mallard and caramelised cabbage with Scottish girolles and thyme came as very rare breast – maybe a tad too rare – alongside a crispy confit leg and super thin shavings of what tasted like pickled daikon; autumn on a plate. The cabbage in question appeared to have been pureed and cooked down to within an inch of its life to resemble butterscotch and delivered a bloody brilliant rich umami hit. Herdwick mutton loin with Jerusalem artichokes and wild herbs was similarly well received. Huge flavour punch from the nice pink mutton, rich jus and crispy fried artichoke skins poked in between, along with a strange ball of what could have been poached artichoke rolled in parsley. It added nothing apart from ramping up the quirk factor. Sadly there was no one to explain the main course and in a place like this you really need that kind of help. Oh, and the wild herbs were inedibly bitter. Maybe they were foraged for in the dark.

Dessert more than any other course takes the happy western diner out of their comfort zone and slaps them round the chops with a gloved Danish fist. Beetroot and blackberries with tarragon or carrot and sweet cicely anyone? No, we chose sheep milk yoghurt and swede ice cream actually. A spectacular dome of almost foamy yoghurt surrounded the ice cream, which, yup, tasted of nothing but swede.

North Road is of those rareities that seems to be enjoyed more by the dirty pedants that hang around the user review sites than the collective cultured palates of the food critics, but its treatment by the latter has been rather unfair at times. Yes, the austere, hushed white-on-white-on-white dining room may make it feel a little like eating in a particularly swanky private hospital and yes, the cooking can be a tad on the unusual side, but there is much to recommend this place. A glimpse of the future? Maybe not, but if you’re curious as to what all this modern Nordic nonsense is about, there are few better places to try in the capital than North Road.

North Road – 69 St John St, London

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