We could blame the Blumenthal zeitgeist, we could bemoan the jaded palates of Islington which demand the culinarily arcane be proffered in their domestic midst, but the main draw to ‘Fig’, a smallish shop-front gastro in otherwise mid-posh residential Barnsbury, is curiosity - chef Christoffer Hruskova has quickly snagged a reputation for alchemical cookery with a Nordic twist.
Unfortunately, the main aroma on entering the place was the drains. Urgently dispatched to investigate, the proprietor ‘solved’ the problem by opening both front and back doors of the restaurant, replacing the sewage smell with cigarette choke drifting from the pub-like courtyard.
Less than half-full even on a non-footy Friday night, Fig lacks warmth, either in décor or charm: service mixes gay hauteur with insouciance, and the lack of engagement between front of house and customers is a flaw in what should be a favoured ‘local’.
Menus are complex but at least in English and we congratulated ourselves on only having to ask one ‘what’s that’ question (Koldskaal is a bland Danish buttermilk soup). Smoked diver scallops with apple flavours was accurate except that the scallops were only just plural and had no taint of smoke other than the fag-waft from the back yard, but the combination of tart and dessert apple, radish and shoots was a lovely foil to the sweet flesh. Four would have been a better portion.
Our other starter was wild sea trout which we were informed was served hot. It wasn’t and the tiny tranches of fridgy flesh were wrapped in some salty black substance and each crowned with a fingernail of crisped skin. The barely-attendant carrot, sea buckthorn and rye were subliminal in their involvement with the dish.
Of the mains, the £19.50 ‘Suffolk roe buck’ (venison) was the star with perfectly cooked loin fillet and a sharply seasoned jellied terrine of the leg, with some interesting mushrooms dotted on the plate including a morel. One morel. Seabass was well-cooked but dull by comparison.
There’s a clever wine-list of unusual varieties including Picpoul de Pinet, Malvasia, Cannonau and Tannat, mostly in the £25-35 bracket.
Desserts were again hit and miss, one involving four blackberries and a cream-filled cannelloni was derided in favour of a series of cherry confits, jellies and sorbets which looked fine but weren't saturated with juice or sweetness.
For three courses with one bottle of wine, tap water and no coffee we paid £110. There’s a tasting menu at £45 with wine selections for £35, all plus 12.5% service. Fig is at 169 Hemingford Road N1 1DA, handy for the Overground station at Barnsbury. www.fig-restaurant.co.uk