Restaurant review: John Salt, N1
16:04 17 January 2013
»The John Salt is a self-styled neighbourhood joint occupying the venue formerly known as the Keston lodge.
131 Upper Street
Tube: Angel/Highbury and Islington
Tel: 0207 704 8955
Mains: £29.50 for four courses
Wine: from £15
Children welcome: Yes until 7pm
Disabled access: Yes
Downstairs is a welcoming bar with a healthy selection of libation and a communal eating area, but go for the full dining experience and you are led upstairs, away from the hoi polloi.
As seems the fashion these days, different resident cooks conjure up treats for your table and the chef on our visit was Ben Spalding, who has since moved on to pastures new.
His offerings came in abstemious four or indulgent 12 course servings – the menus for both were laid out like gastronomic tube maps.
We went for four courses, although you actually get eight, and buckled up for the culinary ride, which kicked off with a nibble platter; delicious miso tea, a fantastic short rib ball and crisps with a slightly odd orange mayonnaise dip.
The bread and butter course was mainly notable for the inclusion of some exquisite, Scandinavian double churned stuff that I could have eaten on its own.
I had heard about the chicken on a brick in advance, envisaging a whole roast bird sat steaming on some concrete, but it was in fact a smooth parfait with bitter berries spread on a caramel smothered stone.
Tasty though it was, there wasn’t much of it, although I later realised that you were meant to lick the brick. Curse my good manners.
After the richness of the chicken, the salmon was a welcome hit of freshness. The fish was maple poached – so sweeter than normal –and the mango accompaniment was actually rotten – which took some sugar away.
It sounds crazy, but somehow the flavours met in the middle and combined well.
If we could pick a star from this lot, it was the heel of beef – so tender it fell apart as my fork announced its onslaught and mouthwatering when served with the unstrained cooking juices. Heavenly.
After a quick pallet cleanser, delivered from an old school soda stream, the pudding came out – cucumber and peanut butter. Another weird one, and while the fragrant cucumber and earthy peanut were balanced, this one didn’t quite work out.
A special mention for the staff, who seemed to know everything about these often unusual dishes, and took the time to pair a matching ale with each course – a lovely touch.
A thoroughly enjoyable meal, with loads of care and attention taken. Some acquired tastes on the menu, but definitely recommended – just don’t forget to lick the brick.