31 March 2013

John Salt, Upper Street


You know those spur of the moment meet ups you arrange with a friend when you just fancy a good old chat and some tasty food? This was one such occasion. This was Saturday afternoon.

We are long-time visitors to the many restaurants, bars and pubs of Upper Street in Angel. Ever since we first met around ten years ago, our original little girly group - Tina, Philippa, Lisa, Hayley and I - frequently arranged our nights out here, most notably in The Winchester on Essex Road.

Caroline      Tina
I had noted that there was a new restaurant on the strip! And not just another quirky restaurant-come-loud cocktail bar like many of the venues nearby. John Salt, I'd heard, was much more laid back and homely, billing itself as 'A Neighbourhood Bar With Good Beer'.

I arrived fifteen minutes late having forgotten yet again to check if Arsenal were playing at home at the nearby Emirates stadium...they were of course. Ridiculous traffic!

But I made it. Inside John Salt it's bright, modern and casual - my kind of place when all you want is a relaxed catch up.


Despite the menu choice being rather short, we were amused at how long it took us to actually decide what we wanted! Quite frankly, I wanted to try all of this intriguing fare.

On the menu there is no explanation of what each dish is (have you ever heard of a Red Flannel Hash?) so I'm sure the waiters here are kept very busy repeating a list of food items over and over again.


Just a bit of info regarding the Head Chef here. The restaurant originally opened a few months back with their 'hot young chef' Ben Spalding winning it rave reviews. But for one reason or another, Spalding threw in the tea-towel and John Salt quickly installed Neil Rankin - another 'hot young chef'. To quote a Time Out review, "Neil Rankin (formerly of Pitt Cue Co) deals in meaty smoke-house cooking with elegant, modist twists". Quite.

Having listened to our waitress reel off all the ingredients in that Red Flannel Hash I mentioned - beetroot, red onion, leeks, sweetcorn, goats cheese and roast potatoes with a breadcrumbed egg on top - I decided to give it a try. It's unlike me to go for the vegetarian option but it just sounded yum. I also ordered a side of the pulled pork, kimchi and cheese frites. Tina ordered the green chilli poussin.

Have you ever had a Bloody Mary served with a cheese biscuit?


Me neither! 

Happily, I have now.


About twenty minutes later our food arrived.

Here is my Red Flannel Hash


Wow, it was a delight! Loads of my favourite things all seemingly thrown together into one crazy dish! The juicy beetroot and tangy caramelised onions worked so beautifully with the creamy goat's cheese. The potatoes were a welcome crispy addition and the perfectly runny egg was the proverbial cherry on the cake. I need to make this dish at home!

The pulled pork frites were really good too. Smoky and spicy, they also serve a huge portion!


Just look at Tina's poussin


 What a neat and saucy little bird!


Tina kindly let me try a bit and it was beautifully moist and not at all bland as poussin often can tend to be. The honey glaze was sweet and tangy. Tina was impressed!

After a little more time putting the world to rights, we thought we would order dessert.

Okay, I'll fess up. Tina was full up so I ordered two desserts. Oink!

I decided upon the bacon panna cotta (very Heston!) and - with good intentions of taking it home to my husband who has the sweetest of sweet teeth - the Oreo, peanut butter and chocolate tart.


I wasn't sure if I would like the panna cotta. I'm not even a huge fan of bacon to be honest but the idea just intrigued me. I had tried bacon used in a dessert before at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen and it did work.

I think I liked it.

Yes I think I did. It was milky, wonderfully creamy and the smoky bacon flavour, although clearly apparent, was subtle enough not to be too weird. The sweet maple reduction added to the sweetness. But I must admit, the conflict of bacon and sweet dessert did send my head in a bit of a spin!

I tried a little of the tart but I think the amount of time it lasted after I'd put it in front of Alex back at home is the best review....about 15 seconds!


I had a fabulous lunch at John Salt. The venue was laid back (this was a Saturday afternoon though - I hear it's a different story Saturday evenings), the food very exciting and it was all pretty good value for money!


My only gripe was the service which although quite friendly, was a little slow.

Still, it wasn't enough to ruin a very lovely catch-up.

John Salt
Food
★★★★
Cocktails
★★★
Atmosphere
★★★
Bar Service
N/A
Waiter Service
★★★
Value
★★★★★
Toilets
★★★
Bouncers
N/A

John Salt on Urbanspoon
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29 March 2013

Happy Easter!


I just wanted to wish you a Happy Easter!

Tonight I consumed my first whole chocolate Easter egg. And not a small one, oh no. An entire Walnut Whip Egg. It was delicious and I don't feel guilty. Unlimited chocolate consumption is okay during the Easter break and the calories do not count. We all know that.

Now we all tend to associate Easter with the same things: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, chocolate eggs, a long weekend and of course the Easter bunny.


Aaaaaaah, the Easter bunny. What isn't adorable about a cute bunny providing chocolate eggs for all the children? Surely nothing.


Well how about this?


Or this?


Yes ladies and gentlemen: these are the creepiest, most soul-scarring and, quite frankly, shoddy Easter bunnies you have ever seen. 

But they are rather hilarious.  How did they even happen??

Hoppy Easter!




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B.Y.O.C and Balthazar


Firstly, I'd like to apologise in advance for the lower-than-usual quality of pictures in this post. We visited two very dimly lit venues (they love a bit of atmosphere!) and I seriously need to get me a new camera lens. Groan!

Caroline       Beth
B.Y.O.C. ('Bring Your Own Cocktail') is quite a secretive little place. You wouldn't know it was there unless you'd read about it somewhere really awesome....like on here. Who'd have realised what excitement went on inside Juice Bar on Bedfordbury, Covent Garden.

On arrival, having paid your £20 entrance fee, you are lead behind the counter and down some intimidatingly narrow winding stairs to a dinky and dimly lit basement. Lively 1920's jazz played. I was first to arrive and it felt a bit like I was taking part in some secret underground activity!


This place is not licensed to sell alcohol; you bring along your tipple of choice. Vodka, rum, whisky, brandy, whatever you fancy. Wine, beer and champagne or something more unusual, also fine. It needs to be in a sealed bottle though so don't bring rum in a half-filled plastic Evian bottle whatever you do. Obviously that's what I did because I didn't read the small print - luck for me I must have a trustworthy face and they let me off...

As well as the rum, between us we'd brought Malibu, Amaretto and a little bit of Jagermeister that I had leftover in the cupboard. Again, the bottles brought here should be in a sealed bottle (naughty Caz!).


The mixologist wheels over his little antique trolley of goodies: various juices, fruit, vegetables, bitters, syrups, herbs and spices. You show him what you've brought along, he asks you what you like and then he makes you up something lovely.

He said he liked to kick off the first round with a classic so he used the rum to make us a delicious lychee daiquiri. It was fruity and refreshing and a perfect start.

Beth and I chatted the evening away as the room got more and more busy (the tables were all taken by the time our two hour slot was over). We had four or five cocktails made for us in that time - a raspberry amaretto sour, a pina colada and an amazing creamy concoction made from the unusual choice of Jagermeister!


I really liked B.Y.O.C.  Despite it becoming much more known now and not quite the 'hidden gem' it was, you do still feel rather like you're involved in something quite hush hush! Some people probably don't like the fact that you have to pay the £20 charge to get in but it covers the cost of the ingredients that make up your cocktail plus the creation of your drink. They don't do much in the way of food yet - just a little £5 plate of nuts and mixed dried fruit - but I understand that's in the pipe-line. 


Cocktails done and now time to head off for a spot of dinner.

There was a lot of hype around the opening of Balthazar in London. I visited the original one in New York a couple of years ago where I'd had a rather splendid breakfast. I was keen to try and get in early at this new opening.


With all the fanfare came a constantly engaged reservations line. Annoying. It seemed everyone wanted to be the first through the doors. So I waited until I returned from my holiday and then I made my reservation - for three weeks ahead I could still only get 9.30pm or later! 

But we were here now. 

It is very New York. The room is sepia-tinted with gleaming red leather banquettes, enormous mirrors and a mosaic floor. The room is bustling and you can just tell that this is kind of 'the place to be'.


The French brasserie inspired menu is all very tempting.  Should I have the snails?  I do like a snail. Or the Grilled Sardine Tartine? No, I was definitely in a cheese mood: Warm Goat's Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart.

At this point I would usually show you a beautiful picture of fabulous tart. Unfortunately not on this occasion. Firstly, the picture came out so badly and red-tinted that I decided it shouldn't even grace these pages. Secondly, it really wasn't that impressive to look at. It tasted just okay - you can't go too wrong with goat's cheese and onion really - but it wasn't amazing. The pastry was a bit tough and a little too thin for my liking and the tart itself was too shallow.  

For my main course I had decided to do something I don't normally do in restaurants - I decided to ignore the Duck Shepherd's Pie and the Steak Au Poivre; I ordered a burger. The Balthazar Cheeseburger to be exact. I just quite fancied one and I thought it was bound to be something a bit special in here


It's not really is it?

I wasn't blown away. The patty was nice and thick and cooked medium-rare as requested but the juiciness that I was so hoping for just wasn't there. Plus there wasn't enough cheese and there were no fancy sauces in that bun either. The chips were nice but again, nothing inspiring. 

All in all the restaurant itself is very cool, service was okay and it's good value for money but I was just a little underwhelmed with the food. I wasn't surprised though; I had read a few average reviews of the place before my visit. 

Hey-ho, it wasn't the food-highlight of my March (I think Nobu and Disco Bistro share that honour) but it was a great night at two very cool little venues. I went home feeling very trendy indeed.


Balthazar
Food
★★★
Cocktails
N/A
Atmosphere
★★★★
Bar Service
N/A
Waiter Service
★★★
Value
★★★
Toilets
★★★
Bouncers
N/A


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