28 February 2013
It's a food-spotters and bloggers menu if ever there was one. Devised dishes described in a mash-up two-word list of current food trends. Raw this and that, ‘Kimchi’ here, ‘chicken skin’ there, ‘pulled pork’ everywhere… Check, check and mate, mate. That there's a pervading whiff of BBQ will come as little surprise to anyone who knows that chef Neil Rankin has hotfooted it over here from iconic meat Mecca Pitt Que, following a unfortunate turn of events between the owners and original kitchen prodigy Ben ‘Roganic’ Spalding. But of course if you're just a humble punter, you will neither know, nor care about this back story.
For the rest of you, the civilians still radiating bafflement at the one-word menu and the breathy introduction? Banish the gloom and forget about the ‘nu-restaurant’ wankery, you're in for a treat.
There's a seemingly more comfortable dining space upstairs, though we're relegated to slightly cramped and uncomfortable rough-hewn communal tables at the front, slotted in next to a mixed bag of trendy locals and slathering food spotters. Not ideal for a quiet date, and not something that they make a recommendation on when you book which feels odd. I'm also surprised that it's not as busy as the Twitterati would have you imagine. There's definitely room for walk ups, certainly in the loud downstairs bar space which serves a limited version of the same innovative menu.
And the food? Thankfully it's superb. Absolutely superb.
We go for (scratch that, I go for) a selection of the starter plates, topped off with a ‘Red Flannel Hash’. Only on discussion with the serving dude do we realise that's a type of beetroot, roasted to perfection with floury roast potatoes and delicate peas and corn, topped with a panko-coated soft-boiled egg. Perfect comfort food, if irritatingly undecipherable from the menu alone.
Those burnt leeks were a smokey revelation, the flavour of the BBQ subtle but pervasive, mellowed out by creamy rich yolk. Tiny and delicately tempura'ed oysters were gone in a heartbeat, much like a large fresh dose of buttery crab with a wallop of fresh sea served on a slice of deep fried puffed-up pig skin more akin to a prawn cracker. Simple flavours combined well and packing a real punch. Genuine food that puts a smile on your face.
The best for me was a simple salad of raw beef and apple, with a hit of chilli oil and a nutty sweetness from scattered sesame. A perfect small plate and bargainous at a fiver. For the same price we also enjoyed a riff on Canadian monstrosity poutine, here made with hunks of fleshy pork belly and softly warming kimchi. The couple packed in next to us were overheard contemplating a second portion of this, I wholeheartedly agreed with their ambition and would have done likewise if I hadn't known the reaction my suggestion would get from my guest.
And that Bacon Panna Cotta to finish with was designed to fulfil almost all of my fantasies. Every bit as wrong (and as right) as you can imagine. Soft creamy panna cotta with just a hint of smokey bacon, topped with crushed nuts and maple syrup. Absolutely heavenly.
I'm also delighted to say that it's very well priced for this quality of innovative cooking. Even with a (frankly poor and astringent) bottle of house white and (much better) service, the tab only came to £67. It certainly lived up to the hype, though I'm glad to say that it's not as crowded as expected (and as it deserves to be, but these are early days). Next time however I'll be going for a seat upstairs. Don't be put off by the cooler than thou menu, you can ask questions. Come and join the food spotters…