John Salt

131 Upper Street , London, N1 1QP

  • John Salt 2013
  • John Salt 2013

SquareMeal Review of John Salt

Following the departure of hot-shot BBQ chef Neil Rankin, who is now firing up the stoves at Smokehouse on nearby Canonbury Road, this noisy, but ‘immensely cool’ foodie boozer is in a state of flux. The current chef is working out his notice and there are plans to revamp the venue in November, creating what the owners call a ‘bar-based offering’. The upstairs dining room will be turned into a more casual lounge, but for now there are still DJs at the weekends and a drinks offer running from London-brewed ales to zesty cocktails – try the ‘beer glass’ Mary or spiced steelbottom (Flor De Cana rum, ginger, lemon, London Fields Hopster and bitters). More details to follow.

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6.5

Food & Drink: 6.9

Service: 6.6

Atmosphere: 6.6

Value: 6.5

Food & Drink: 2.0

Service: 2.0

Atmosphere: 2.0

Value: 3.0

The Cheese platinum reviewer 08 December 2015

I've few qualms about John Salt as a bar, but I was under the misapprehension that it's a foodie destination. (Perhaps I was lured there by the ghost of small plates and tapas past). But under the custody of Young's Brewery, John Salt has lost its culinary way; it's all generic pulled pork and mac 'n' cheese, in line with airy NY loft styling. And while noon on a Monday may be the graveyard shift in most people's minds, I found myself on the doorstep and ravenous. In the absence of a single wholesome option on the menu, I contemplated a deli-style sandwich... but got a shameless burger instead. Skinny fries, pickled gherkins and an oddly astringent slaw were all present, but the patty itself - though juicy as hell - was flavourless. The 'DNA ale' onions were too sweet, particularly given the lovely, accompanying brioche bun. And maybe I'm being harsh - maybe Jinjuu's condiments have ruined me for life - but the sauces were underwhelming: just ketchup, mustard and mayo, without a whiff of hot sauce or relish. The bottles were mucky which - when paired with all three draught beers I requested being 'off', and a complete absence of loo roll in the ladies - suggested a lack of care. Attention was more focused on hanging Christmas decorations, although service was still very pleasant each time we were face to face. I'm sorry to say the nondescript indie soundtrack was in tune with my culinary experience. I certainly wouldn't rush to eat here again; there are far too many sparky independents on Upper Street to warrant a second chance.

Food & Drink: 3.0

Service: 3.0

Atmosphere: 3.0

Value: 3.0

Rikesh P. 14 November 2013

Very nice place and food is good

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 3.0

Atmosphere: 3.0

Value: 4.0

lifeofshayan 05 August 2013

John Salt. This was a recommendation from my boss. This tapas style restaurant is also a bar so there was a lot of noise. The restaurant was packed so we had to sit in the bar area and it was strange making my food order at the bar too and paying up front. But this was a minor issue and the food was good. As sharing plates we ordered six items in all. Fried courgettes with fennel salt, charred mackerel with pepper salsa, crab kampot in sourdough bread, jerk pork with pineapple, fillet beef with chimichurri and aged dripping chips. This was all enough for Laura and I and was very delicious. A brief breakdown; the Kampot crab was amazing. Crab with Cambodian flavours of garlic, ginger, a hint of chillies and other things I don't know on top of bread almost like a pâté. They were not stingy with the crab it herbs so this was awesome and a great way to start. The food comes out once its ready and not in any specific order. Next the crispy courgettes were nice and crunchy yet soft and juicy inside. The fennel salt made it very moreish and its great that Laura is only little and doesn't eat much as there was more for me. The mackerel was good but slightly underwhelming, especially after the crab. The meats we ordered were nice and had the Mediterranean flavours of North Africa and Greece in them. Laura described then as pork which was “tender with some crunch from the cornbread” and the fillet which was cooked medium had “lots of flavour, oil and oregano”. A good place to go and at just over £50 for two with a drink each = a great night out. I do enjoy date night with Laura and tapas is great because you get to try various dishes and it is always a bit of excitement whilst waiting for what comes next.

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 2.0

Atmosphere: 2.0

Value: 3.0

Jonathan T. 17 April 2013

We ate here as a group of six for a friend's birthday. It was a worthwhile visit but there are things the owners could improve. The first thing I noticed was that it looked quite different to the pictures above, the second was that it was quite loud which made the big table something of a barrier to conversation. 241 cocktails from 5-8 are a steal but I was only able to try one because it took 40 minutes to arrive and they refused to extend the happy hour by one drink for us – too busy they said, get more staff then, we thought. None the less my Angel's Kiss was a tasty number which worked really well with a sage leaf on top. We ordered our food from the interesting but perhaps slightly under-explained menu. I found many of the side dishes more tempting than the mains and there was quite a reliance on meat and potatoes – the pescatarians in our party weren't spoilt for choice but they were some tasty sounding fish options – maybe giving a meat free choice on the mussels might be a good idea? When the starters came they were tasty. My burnt leeks were not actually burnt but were flavoured burnt and very agreeable they were too, coming with a free floating egg yolk helping to create an unctuous oozy mess. The ham and eggs looked good, the raw beef was lovely and fiery, the scallops solid but the cod cheeks slightly undercooked. We then waited about 25 minutes for our main course, it was a little longer than we would liked to have waited but it was worth it. I had the chilli poussin which was cooked to perfection and the sauce was divine – it was like an excellent posh chinese take-away dish. The fries on the side I wasn't so sure of, they contained a cross continental offering off pulled portk, kimchi (which was nowhere near as sour as the ‘real’ stuff' and cheese. All nice in its own right but unconvincing mixed with some pretty average fries. My girlfriend raved about the pork hash and nobody had any complaints about their onglet steak. All in all this was a tasty experience with interesting and well executed dishes, however the service and the surroundings could get on your nerves in a way which might just detract from the enjoyment. It was certainly not a bargain but I've definitely felt more aggrieved at the size of a bill before!

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 3.0

Atmosphere: 3.0

Value: 4.0

Grumbling Gourmet platinum reviewer 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…

Food & Drink: 4.0

Service: 4.0

Atmosphere: 3.0

Value: 4.0

Matt P. gold reviewer 02 December 2012

Don’t eat here. It’s probably for the best. In particular, don’t eat here if your expectations are sky-high (an earlier reviewer complained that it’s not as good as the pre-opening hype!!). Don’t eat here if you’re bothered about eating on the mezzanine floor of a bar/pub. Don’t eat here if you’re expecting three courses of fine dining – at least, not if you're coming here on a Saturday night for 12 courses, as I did. Don’t eat here if your favourite restaurant is in the River Café mould: quality ingredients served as simply as possible. Don’t eat here if the idea of a three hour dinner fills you with dread. Don’t eat here if you expect to love every single thing that comes out of the kitchen. DO NOT EAT HERE. Because you will be bitterly disappointed. You will hate it, and you will feel like you’ve been robbed. But. If the idea of experimental yet flavour-filled food excites you, eat here. If you are thrilled by a menu that delivers theatricality and eye-popping presentation which doesn’t get in the way of the grub, eat here. If you want a dinner that provokes heated debate amongst everyone round the table, rather than just acts as wallpaper to an evening out, eat here. If you’re prepared to trade a dish or two that aren’t to your taste for others that are madly brilliant, eat here. If you enjoy service that is zealous to the point of cult-like, eat here. If you might get a kick from sampling the earliest solo project of a potential future British food superstar – an unashamed, back-breaking six-month pitch for a major, expensive restaurant of his very own – EAT HERE. You will remember it for a long time to come.

Food & Drink: 3.0

Service: 3.0

Atmosphere: 4.0

Value: 3.0

Elle E. silver reviewer 28 November 2012

I liked it. We scored a reservation on a Saturday night and with hindsight, maybe it wasn't that smart. My dinner partner and I were rather excited by the 12courses meal and the hype kept on going on that brick to lick chicken paté dish. I couldn't wait to try it. Well, wait was definitely part of the evening. It took us close to three hours to complete the meal (only because we rushed them towards the end), which was kind of expected. As far as I could see, all the dinners were on the same menu (I don't think they had a choice) and it was interesting to see on their tables what was coming next. The atmosphere isn't stuffy at all and the waiters/waitresses are helpful and knowledgeable (happy to serve us more of a dish we particularly enjoyed). Out of 12 courses and nibbles, I absolutely loved one (hen of the wood, I am pointing at you), strongly disliked one and was interested by the others. It's fun, it's about the game of tasting, textures and guessing and discussing but I admit it wasn't all music to my tastebuds. If you don't have a sweet tooth beware that 3/4 of the dishes are slightly sweet, if you don't like waiting (and in our cases, it was a bit of a waiting game in between the dishes), maybe don't go on a Saturday night, if you're after haute cuisine and hit at every mouthful, pass your way. As a matter of fact, the lick a brick chicken thing was fun but not that good, the paté tasted average and the caramel was… well caramel but John Salt gets point for presentation.

Food & Drink: 1.0

Service: 4.0

Atmosphere: 4.0

Value: 1.0

Frank H. 19 November 2012

Incredibly disappointing. This should be a lot better considering all the excitement built up about this restaurant. Amuse bouche of raw miso was a great start with a lovely sea flavour. The orange mayonaise and crisps that came with didn't work for me. A huge dish of nice bread was good but oversized. Three different butters was a nice touch, but not hugely different. Hen of the woods was delicious, rich and had a great earthy flavour. Served on a burnt lettuce it was one of the better dishes of the evening. Chicken on a brick was pure gimmick, a chicken pate of normal quality on a sugar glazed brick. You couldn't eat the sugar, so what was the point of the brick? Logan berries and sweetcorn kernels provided a much needed contrast to an already flat dish. It was also an irritatingly stingy portion and tough to eat with a spoon. The Machiavellian egg was bad… Mashed potato and egg with parsley sauce. The smoked watermelon underneath did not make a good combination but was the only refreshing foil to the stodge of this dish. The scallop burger ‘thing’ just plain didn't work – overpowering kiwi meant all the subtleness of the scallop was lost – we were encouraged to eat this with our hands which was a messy and unpleasant job. The rainbow trout was actually good, unusual soft gluey texture from being slow cooked which I enjoyed with the fragrance of kafir lime and the sweetness of coconut. Next was the terrible Vacherin risotto… one of my favourite cheeses, but I couldn't detect it in this tiny sized, well cooked but bland risotto. The heel of beef was average and was very sticky (verging on unpleasantly so) and had no textural contrast on the plate – although it tasted good I wouldn't be surprised to eat this on a Sunday at a fairly good pub. Ben himself presented this telling us it had “Caramelised shallots ‘n’ that” – yeah thanks for that tidbit Ben. Puddings were definitely the highlight – the fennel and absinthe one was balanced well and also had lovely textural differences with nuggets of chewy biscuit and sponge – clearly influenced by Simon Rogans Great British Menu winning dish. The chocolate mousse was sweet and chocolately with a black pepper edge which worked to stop it being insipid (in a good way). But overall a disappointing meal which wasn't cheap – the bill was about £60 a head and with no drinks. I wouldn't head back any time soon. I'd say the main problems were lack of textures in most dishes – a lot of mush and not a lot of crunch anywhere and flavour combinations that didn't work or weren't more than the sum of their parts (which is what a great combination should be). This said, Ben is young and is learning so there is definitely hope for the future – especially the great puddings. I've also heard good things about the bar food.

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