John Salt is a “neighbourhood bar with good beer” and resides on Upper Street in Islington. It’s more than just a bar however, it’s the first restaurant from Ben Spalding since he left the kitchen of Roganic. He has taken up a 6 month residency to run the kitchen at this newly renovated bar/restaurant and my gentleman companion and I were lucky enough to have a table during the first official dinner service.
We’ve been to a few of Ben’s previous pop ups; Stripped Back in a London Fields school playground, the Stripped Back Sunday lunch at Redhook and also his collaboration dinner with the Rare Tea Lady, and all have been very impressive so we were pretty excited to be trying John Salt.
The downstairs bar (which has it’s own bar food menu) is massive with a really high ceiling – I imagine when it’s busy it’ll have a great atmosphere. Tucked away upstairs is the small dining room which is simply designed and makes a pleasant place to sit.
On offer were two tasting menus: 4 courses at £28 or 8 courses at £56. The menu will be tweaked daily depending on market availability. We opted for the 4 courses but we’ll be sure to return for the full caboodle once it’s been up and running for a while.
We started with an amuse bouche of mozzarella and orange. This was a lovely way to begin, the creamy mozzarella combined with the sweet orange was a delicious mouthful. I would have gladly eaten plates of the stuff.
Next up was homemade bread (served in a bowl made of bread) which was a course by itself. The sweet muffin-shaped beer roll was my favourite – really lovely. The cheesy crisp breads and the sliced rosemary bread were also a winner. This was served alongside two types of Swedish butter which were whipped and un-whipped – they were both light and salty and were perfect for smearing over everything.
Our first course was one of Ben’s signature dishes – chicken on a brick (yes, you heard correctly). This comes in the form of a chicken liver cream topped with lingon berries, crispy chicken skin and sweet corn smeared over a house brick which has been covered in a hardened caramel. The flavour combinations work beautifully together. There’s rich earthy livers and tangy lingonberries then a crunch from the chicken skin. Yum. I could have done with more of it though (because I’m greedy). I even licked the brick and didn’t look deranged doing so – as everyone else was doing the same thing.
Our second course was salted rainbow trout poached in maple syrup, salted almonds, kaffir lime, creme fraiche and rotten mango juice (which tastes better than it sounds!) The dish looked absolutely stunning and it totally matched in flavour. The quality of the trout was wonderful – it melted in my mouth. The dots of sweet mango were soothed by the tangy creme fraiche and the almonds added texture.
Our final savoury course was heel of beef cooked in wine, kimchi, roasted carrot puree, bok choi and unstrained cooking juices. The beef, cooked for at least 3 hours, was seriously tender and had bags of flavour. It was served with a jug of rich meaty sauce which even I couldn’t finish – and I like a lot of sauce. Finally, a restaurant that serves enough sauce! It was also served with a small seeded bread roll, to mop up that delightful sauce – what a good idea! I really loved everything about this dish.
A little bottled palate cleanser was served with a straw and we drank it with delight. It was warm spiced apple and pomegranate juice – it certainly warmed my cockles.
Dessert was most unusual – salted cucumber juice, peanut butter, natural yoghurt and muscat grape jam. Each mouthful was sweet, salty, refreshing, crunchy, wet – there was every taste and texture going on but it worked really REALLY well. Cucumber and peanut butter – well I never!
A final treat of salt and pepper chocolate mousse was served. The chocolate mousse had been generously salted but I could have done with a bit more of a whack of pepper though. That’s not to say I didn’t wolf the lot down with gusto.
Service was very sweet and friendly. Dishes were brought to the table by a blend of waiters and chefs which was a nice touch. The desserts were prepared in the dining room which was another lovely touch, then served by the delightful Fanny, who’s in charge of desserts.
I can see great things for John Salt (during Ben’s 6 month stint) – the menu was imaginative and the dishes had bags of flavour. Once they’ve settled in and found their flow – I imagine it getting even better. Book now.