The Smokehouse

The Smokehouse in Islington is the latest venture by the king of BBQ, Chef Neil Rankin, previously of the critically acclaimed John Salt and Pitt & Cue. My last visit to John Salt proved to be a dazzling affair with the meal showcasing dishes that were not only delicious, but which demonstrated great skill and originality. Also particularly inspiring were the Korean influences incorporated into some of his creations.

The Smokehouse opened in August 2013 and has similarly been well received. The Smokehouse is backed by the same group that runs The Pig and Butcher, Princess of Shoreditch and The Lady Ottoline, and so it should come as no surprise that it has a lovely gastropub feel to it. The lighting is intimate, the tables are cozily positioned and the ambience is warm and relaxed. There’s also a generous area devoted to outdoor seating, which would come in handy on those days when the sun shines bright.

We started with the foie gras, apple pie and duck egg (£10) which was really gorgeous. The two pieces of rich, beautiful foie gras had been expertly cooked and oozed decadently with lots of lovely fattiness. The ‘apple pie’ contained soft diced apple caked in breadcrumbs and was really nicely done. The sweetness of the apple cut through the richness of the foie gras and the crumbing gave the dish a lovely texture. The duck egg yolk perched on top of the apple pie was golden throughout and perfect.

Smokehouse - Foie gras

Foie gras

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Marquess Tavern

Marquess Tavern is a cozy local pub located on Canonbury Street in Islington. The main focal point of the pub is the central bar, and circling the bar are tables where customers can sit and enjoy a drink or have a bite to eat. Marquess Tavern won the Time Out Gastro Pub of the Year award in 2006, however the current layout of the pub (where there is no dedicated separate dining area) suggests that Marquess Tavern’s focus has shifted from gastropub to boozer.

We tried the quail wrapped in smoked bacon (£7.25) with beetroot and orange. It was a pleasant dish with the quail being tasty and moist. But there was no caramelisation on the quail and it needed more browning on the skin for greater flavour and a more superior finish.

Marquess Tavern - Quail wrapped in bacon

Quail wrapped in bacon

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John Salt

Note: Chef Neil Rankin has now left John Salt.

Ben Spalding cooked some amazing food when he was at Roganic. But a year or so into his tenancy he parted ways and headed to the kitchen of John Salt. I would have loved to try the creations Spalding came up with during his time at John Salt since his cooking was sublime. But this was not to be, as he didn’t stay on for very long. Hard to say what happened, but he seemingly did not part on good terms. Anyway it matters not because new Chef Neil Rankin has come into the kitchen with all guns blazing to create an electrifying menu with a Korean twist. Chef Rankin use to be the head chef at Pitt & Cue, receiving rave reviews in the process. I never got to try his cooking at Pitt & Cue on account of being deterred by the queues, so I was really looking forward to this experience.

John Salt has a punchy vibe to it. The restaurant use to be a bar, and the long bar area on the ground floor remains with some tables dotted around. Upstairs on the mezzanine level there is a quieter dining area. The restaurant has an industrial feel to it and the space suits the boldness of the menu.

We started with a cod with foie gras sauce and blood orange (£7) that was beautifully cooked. The sauce was wonderfully rich and smooth, even if it was a little salty. The blood orange added an interesting citric twist to the dish and worked really well in binding all the elements of the dish into something harmonious.

Cod, foie gras sauce, blood orange

Cod, foie gras sauce, blood orange

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Fig Bistro

My lovely friend JK, who is as much a foodie as I am, liked the idea of trying Fig Bistro in Barnsbury when I suggested it. She often drives past the restaurant, which with its candlelit window, looks cosy and romantic. I’ve never been past the place but I liked the sound of it because Chef Christoffer Hruskova’s CV read well. Having spent a year at King Hans, Denmark’s longest running Michelin starred restaurant, Christoffer embarked on a worldwide culinary tour, taking in kitchens such as Tetsuya’s in Sydney, one of the ‘50 Best Restaurants in the World’, and the now closed Patria in New York City which I use to love when I lived in NYC.

The restaurant is as cute as JK described. It’s warm and homely with brick walls and woodwork furnishings. But our meal got off to an unpromising start. Our waitress had no idea what was in the Cornish charcuterie, one of the starters on the menu. She sent another waiter around to answer our questions, but he was also unable to tell us what was in the Cornish charcuterie or how a main course of Herdwick lamb rump Provencale was cooked. I was floored that the waiting staff at a restaurant could be that ignorant about the dishes on a menu, especially one as short as this (about 5 to 6 options per course).

For starters, I decided to go for the pan-fried scallops and cauliflower (£8) which was part of the ‘Bistro Special menu’ (4 courses for £35). Initially the waiter declined to let me order it (as it was part of the set menu), but with a gentle nudge he finally relented.

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Ottolenghi – Islington

I can never resist the patisserie delights at Ottolenghi. Whenever I walk past the branch on Ledbury Road in Notting Hill, I invariably end up gazing longingly through its shop window at all the treats on display and walking away with one a few minutes later. But Ottolenghi does much more than the sweet stuff. There is also a savoury selection at the display counter, and at the Islington branch (there are also branches in Kensington and Belgravia), there is a laid-back communal dining area, furnished in white, where you can choose from a menu (Islington is the only branch to offer this serviced dine-in area).

This menu is updated daily, and is split between dishes from the display counter and those ‘from the kitchen’. The dishes are all starter-sized, and so Ottolenghi recommends that you order three dishes per person. There were 15 choices on the menu on the evening of our visit (the menu is updated daily), and as there were 5 of us, K came up with the excellent idea of ordering all 15 dishes for us to share. I love to share! And I love to taste lots of little things, so this was ideal for me.

Left in a clockwise direction: tuna, pear, pumpkin, beef, aubergine

Left in a clockwise direction: tuna, pear, pumpkin, beef, aubergine

We started with the dishes from the counter selection. A line-caught seared tuna (£8.80) wrapped in nori (seaweed) and panko (breadcrumbs) was resoundingly fresh, and given a burst of life from the gentle heat of an accompanying wasabi cream.

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Morgan M

Chilled cream of broad bean with horseradish foam

Chilled cream of broad bean with horseradish foam

Morgan Meunier is the French chef behind his self-named French restaurant, Morgan M. Morgan first worked in the UK under Alex Bentley at Hampton Hill, during which time the restaurant gained a Michelin star. Thereafter he moved on to become the head chef of The Admiralty restaurant in Somerset House. Keen to make his own mark, he opened Morgan M in September 2003 at the current location, a slightly unkempt part of North London.

The décor is comfortable and homely in an old-fashioned kind of way. The walls are wood panelled and there are paintings dotted around the room. Morgan M is currently running a summer festival special until 26 July which includes a 6-course tasting menu for two and a bottle of wine (for example, a Le Lesc 2008 from Gascony) to share for £100. Although we came for the offer, we ended up choosing the matching wines (£29.50) to go with the tasting menu instead (£43 at lunch, £48 for dinner).

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