Review: All Hail The Second Coming Of The BLT At Smoke & Salt
Location, location, location. It’s important whether you’re buying a house, having a picnic or opening a restaurant. Occasionally, the food will be so good that the surroundings don’t matter, e.g. at The Heron (shabby boozer with authentic, head bursting Thai food) or… actually, there aren’t too many examples. Mostly, it matters.
We mention this because the two chefs behind Smoke & Salt are on a journey to find the right spot. Previously, they were in residency at Platform 1 in East Dulwich, a space that hosts up and coming talent, supporting people on their journey to stardom or the alternative.
The problem with Platform 1 is that it’s a bit of an odd room – less blank canvas, more ‘here’s a bar from the 90s. And that’s before we’ve got around to the fact they originally named it Pussy Liquor. That’s not a joke.
Anyway, the Smoke & Salt chefs, otherwise known as Aaron Webster and Remi Williams have moved on, and they’re now upstairs at a pub in Islington called The Chapel. On first impressions, it’s another weird one. There’s no signage inside to help you find the restaurant, and we’re asked three times if we’re there for an ‘Amazon meet up’. After firmly opting out and avoiding the stares of various elbow-to-bar locals, we grab a staff member who directs us to a side door.
To say a transformation happens at the top of the stairs is an understatement. From slightly dingy pub to bright restaurant, complete with leafy, heated outdoor terrace. This is much more like it.
It’s a set menu, which kicks off with warm, bready pretzels, lacquered mahogany brown and speckled with salt, their insides layered and buttery like brioche. The starter is a ‘BLT’, a dish that could’ve been annoying (don’t mess with our sandwiches) if it hadn’t been bloody brilliant. Tomatoes just warm as if recently plucked from a greenhouse vine, lettuce leaves charred on that grill, and deeply satisfying just-doughy-enough cavatelli, their ridges catching every drop of a butter and bacon dressing. Yes, butter and bacon dressing.
A main course of lamb made use of beautiful, in-season ingredients – a minced lamb faggot and blushing loin came with shocking green garlic sauce and what must be the largest Jerusalem artichoke ever grown. Pickled okra seemed a little incongruous, but at least they weren’t slimy and horrible as usual, the vinegar and salt having rendered them crisp instead.
A selection of pink grapefruit bits and pieces for dessert, best among them being a luscious curd, which we’d happily have eaten from a jar, or even off the floor, quite frankly, followed by some ‘petit fours’ which were actually cookies. Very nice and all, but still cookies, which would’ve seemed more at home with a cup of tea than following pickled okra. Sorry, guys.
Our only real grumble was with the drinks, which we find out are provided by their hosts, not them. Phew. Glasses of prosecco are warm and flat, and a rhubarb cocktail tastes more like orange cordial than anything approaching the fragrant stalks. Our advice: drink wine.
Overall, Smoke & Salt is a joy and these guys are well worth following, even if they end up in a basement just inside the M25. We have a feeling though, that it won’t be long before we see their names above an entirely appropriate door.
Smoke & Salt, The Chapel, 29 Penton Street, N1 9PX
Last Updated 12 June 2016