There is no Janice at this dishevelled-looking and deliberately under-decorated coffee shop turned bar turned restaurant near Smithfield meat market. Which is a shame.
If matriarchal-sounding Janice had presided over the launch, perhaps she’d have thought to put some carpet over the cold concrete floor or a lick of paint on the bare, graffiti-strewn walls. She might even have invested in light shades to soften the bare bulbs that hang from the ceiling.
But the look is very deliberate. Ask For Janice is not the cobbled-together indie that a passer-by might reckon it at, but rather the seventh opening from Urban Leisure Group — a company with a much more straightforward name. Other bars in its portfolio include Soho’s gin-fueled Graphic and Central & Co close to Oxford Circus, as well as Alice House venues in both Queen’s Park and West Hampstead. Basically, they know what they’re doing.
The kitchen certainly seems to. The food menu is split between bar, small, sharing and large plates, ascending in size to allow lunch or dinner to take pretty much any form desired. Unless you’re sharing-adverse, we’d recommend the small plates approach.
At £4, lardo on toast is a simple, sexy triumph: the fat has all but completely melted to leave decadently lacquered bread that’s topped with piquant peppers and jalapenos that cut through the silky richness. It’s clearly an on-trend dish, we’ve also eaten it at Blackfoot and Lardo recently.
Scallops (£8.50) are a highlight from starters, served roe-on accompanied by punchy greenery in the form of wild garlic and monk’s beard, flecked with crispy bites of bacon for good measure. They are plump, generously seasoned and lightly enough cooked to still be meltingly soft. As for the bacon bites, we’d struggle to think of any dish they wouldn’t enhance.
Grilled sardines (£7.50) have soaked up some smoky notes during cooking and are served with plump orange segments in a dish that channels the Mediterranean sunshine, while a mini-portion of chorizo stew (£7.50) is feisty in its hit of roasted red pepper. A plate of creamy goat curd (£6.50) is let down by an overly sweet chutney and the down-right peculiar addition of sticks of kohlrabi to dip in it. If anyone knows of a good use for kohlrabi, please do let us know.
Puddings we do understand the point of, though. Not least the almost cloyingly rich and dense peanut butter cheesecake served here. Given how intense it is, we’d have welcomed a sharp fruit coulis in place of the sweet-as-jam strawberry sauce it comes with. We bet Janice would have thought of that.
The place is a bar as well as a restaurant, so drinks naturally feature heavily in the concept. There are eight regularly-changing craft beers, while a list of ‘perfect serve’ gin and tonics match some lesser-known gins with the tonics and garnishes that are best suited to them. On our visit, a few too many of the beers came from Fuller’s and Meantime to be considered particularly interesting, but our cardamom-scented Opihr spiced gin with Fevertree tonic and a slice of orange certainly went down a treat.
Yes it’s cool, and yes it’s calculated, but Ask For Janice really does deliver. Just imagine how good it could have been if there actually was someone called Janice taking care of things.
Ask For Janice is at 50-52 Long Lane, EC1A 9EJ.
Disclaimer: We review anonymously and pay for all our meals/drinks.