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Thursday, 13 January 2011

North Road Restaurant, 69-73 St John Street, Farringdon

Sometimes, it’s the little things that count. In many ways, my meal at North Road was the most exciting of last year. The food is ambitious and precisely executed, its flavours often complex yet completely comprehensible. It’s the mark of a very good restaurant to attempt so much without over complicating things or overwhelming customers. North Road should be a great success. 

So why then did I feel less than delighted with my visit just before Christmas? Well, there’s something not quite right. Three of us were sat in a section of the restaurant on our own, despite spare tables in the busier, larger dining room. After this slightly disconcerting start, things got odder.

North Road offers an excellent value lunch menu (3 courses for £20). It featured a lobster soup on the day we ate – a lobster soup that caught Cute Letts’ eye. The problem was, she didn’t want the rest of the menu, and the broth didn’t feature on the a la carte. So we asked, thinking it might be possible to pay an a la carte price (i.e. more) for this individual dish. It was not. Not only that, but the waitress could not have been less helpful about it. There was no asking the kitchen or the manager, no attempt to suggest an alternative from the a la carte, and not a whiff of geniality. Cute Letts was told to have the menu.

The service continued grumpily throughout. Wine waiters jumped up to refill glasses every time anyone had a sip, but didn’t smile once. There was a general sense that we were an annoyance to the front of house staff. It was annoying.

And it’s all so unnecessary. The food at North Road is, at times, jaw-droppingly good. The lobster soup, when it came, was umami heavy and intense with rich, dark flavour. Sweetbreads with milk skin and pickled elderberries were extraordinary – sweet offal, onions and sour notes with a smooth, slightly but nicely rubbery milk skin (it’s exactly what it sounds like). A smoked scallop and apple dish sparkled too (literally, with its glistening jelly topping). 

Mains were excellent as well. Cute Letts’ plaice with salsify was as straightforward as things get here, and good with it. I had mutton loin, with a powerful smoked onion puree and crispy onion ring, atop a wild cabbage broth. It was muscular and unapologetically macho, but as a combination of textures and intriguing, deep flavours, it could hardly have been bettered. 

The pick of the bunch though, was venison loin with beetroot. The loin, rolled in burnt hay ash, had that perfect tenderness that comes with sous vide cooking, while beetroot added to the picture as well as the taste. Smoked bone marrow was dotted hither and thither, counterpointing and enhancing the blood flavoured meat.


Dessert maintained the quality and inventiveness. Jerusalem artichokes, sunflower seeds and smoked ice cream all made appearances, but without any of them feeling out of place. Liquorice and caramel textures provided a highlight. So did comice pears with the aforementioned ice cream and sunflower. 

Chef Christoffer Hruskova is going to impress a lot of people with this brave new venture. The cooking was truly dazzling, and at about £50 pounds per head a la carte with wine, it’s not a bank-breaker. But they do need to work on the service.

Phil Letts’ take: 7/10 (though probably 9 for food alone)

North Road on Urbanspoon


  1. It's such a shame when poor or surly service lets down stellar cooking...

  2. I really wanted to go here but this review has put me in two minds - no matter how good the food shoddy service can really put a dampener on things.

  3. You're right. Hopefully our experience of the service wasn't typical, otherwise they won't get a lot of repeat business. The food is really superb though, so I'd give it a go if I were you.