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|Address:||403 St John Street, London EC1V 4AB|
|Tel:||020 3435 9915|
|Price: £35.00||Wine: £11.00||Champagne: £40.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sun 12N-11pm (Sun -10.30pm)|
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The Brand has landed in Islington, though none of the staff had, at week two, clapped eyes on The Brand himself though they did reveal that Jamie Oliver's muse on all things Italian, Gennaro Cantaldo, had drilled the waiters – and he'd clearly done a splendid job as they're were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and just the right side of over-attentive.
The space, occupying a substantial chunk of the ground floor of the newly opened Angel Centre, is pretty sizeable, and in the hours of daylight is a blend of urban chic with a few nods in the direction of old-style Italy (concrete pillars clad in terracotta tiles), and fairly functional tables and chairs. ‘In the hours of daylight’ is an important caveat because after dark the place is lit by what feels like 40 Watt bulbs – never has the torch facility of an iPhone been more useful, as reading the menu in the crepuscular gloom was a non-starter.
The menu is a good blend of antipasti ‘boards’ (a plank of wood sat on top of a couple of tins of Italian tomatoes), pasta (with a twist) and Italianate mains. The antipasti boards are fine – nicely sourced hams and salamis with a good mix of vegetarian accompaniments (a crunchy salad of root vegetables spiked with mint and chilli), thin slivers of peccorino with a blob of chilli jam on a piece of wafer-thin, unleavened bread, a good ball of mozzarella and various pickled things like caper-berries and some pretty classy olives.
The mains were less appealing – a fiddled around carbonara added leek to the mix and served it on bucatini which – IMHO – moves the pasta rather more centre-stage than is required. The fish in a bag (en papillotte in tinfoil) used coley which (if it doesn't conjure up memories of feeding the cat) is not overly flavourful, though it comes with a reasonable assortment of seafood. A brochette of lamb advertised a veritable symphony of sheepy innards though there seemed to be quite a lot of padding (two cubic lumps of what looked and tasted like bread and polenta – in the gloaming it was rather hard to tell): the actual meat was a decent lump of leg, a piece of heart (possibly) and a chunk of liver. The rather insipid accompanying potato salad was NOT what it called for (a few sautéed potatoes with rosemary would have been a much better companion). And the high-point of the fish stew was a very flavoursome slice of sour-dough slavvered with rouille. (Mains are priced in the mid-￡-teens – quite high for a restaurant which is trying to occupying the middle-ground.)
A lunchtime visit two days later was an improvement – though they'd sold out of squid, they offered a nicely crisped bowl of mushrooms with garlic mayonnaise, a decent bolognaise and a slightly watery though tasty prawn and tomato linguine. Puddings were OK, if not overly generous, and the wine list is short but effective.
I get the feeling that this is a restaurant that has set itself a quality target and it is going to work hard to achieve it. (Maybe The Brand will descend and inspect the troops when all is running smoothly.) Islington needed a decent mid-range eatery near the Angel intersection and, for people en route to Sadler's Wells, it'll be a much-appreciated stop-off. Aim for about £35 per head with a large glass of wine, though a cocktail (they do a pretty good Negroni) would set things up nicely.