Like just about every other self-respecting food bore up and down these sceptered isles I've got a couple of Yotam Ottolenghi's books and, as I probably don't have to tell you, they're great. Harnessing much of what is so wonderful about the flavours of southern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East, his recipes have a lot of stuff in them, but - and here's the thing - they're all very doable. This is great for showing off when you've got people round - "yeah, date syrup just has so much natural sweetness, don't you think? Goes so well with the sumac, too" - but doesn't exactly make me want to go out and pay for more of the same. But Kasia did, and I'm nothing if not a considerate and accommodating sort of guy, so here's how it was.
The first thing to note is that the room of the Islington outpost we visit on a Monday lunchtime is a bit different to what I expect. It's all modern and white, with a big communal table running up the length of it and smaller ones off to the side. We're seated at the former. This allows for the casing out of other people's lunches, the better to select our own. In fact, this seems to be a deliberate part of the thing here; as you enter you pass hummocks of colourful salads and piles of cakes which people are ordering to take away. At lunchtime these also make up the most of the sit-in menu.
We start with a selection of very good bread which comes with a briskly grassy but not over-pungent oil. Sourdough has a good crust but I really like the cornbread, which I resolve to make, because I reckon I probably can. See?
The lunchtime deal is a cold main and three salads for £16.70, or one of the two hot mains and two salads for £21.75. Kasia does the former and I go for the latter, adding an extra salad because I am a greedy shit.
|Quiche and salads|
Kasia's quiche is a sturdy wodge of crisp-bottomed goodness, featuring smoked bacon, thyme and parmesan. The saffron and kaffir lime basmati is a minor revelation, so full of zing and warmth. I'm less impressed by an aubergine thing that involves smoked almonds and rose petals.
|Turkey and courgette koftas with spring onion and cumin|
My turkey balls are pretty damn tasty, with a nice char on the outside while remaining juicily moist within. They come with some nowt spesh yoghurty stuff.
|Char grilled broccoli with chilli and garlic; Pickled turmeric cauliflower with cavalo nero, red onion apple and sultanas|
On the salad front I have, like Indiana Jones at the end of Temple of Doom, chosen wisely. The broccoli is near enough raw, but heavily charred which makes it a smokily delicious crunch-fest, pepped up by healthy quantities of chilli. I've already copied this at home. See? The pickled cauliflower is riotously good, the amber warmth of turmeric in proper balance with the tang of vinegar.
|Butterbean mash with fried Jerusalem artichoke, dried olives and spring onion|
I'm less dazzled by a butterbean hummus, which is nice enough but not aided by some slightly soggy artichoke crisps and tasteless dried olives.
|Choose your weapon|
|Left to right: chocolate caramel thing, orangey almond thing, meringue sandwich thing|
There isn't a dessert menu, you have to get up and go look at the cakes in the window. This 30 metre round trip provides sufficient exercise to merit sharing three of the better looking specimens alongside excellent coffees. The baked chocolate tart with caramel and mascarpone is the clear winner, which is by no means any disgrace for either of the other two.
The wine list is full of biodynamic this and natural that. I have something French and red which certainly has an unpasteurised tang to it. The jury, for me, remains out on this manner of booze. Kasia has a glass of orange wine which is quite a trendy thing to do, I think. It's very nice too, although tastes almost more like cider than wine to my luddite palate. Laudably, nearly everything is available by the glass.
We had a lovely lunch, and I'm glad we went because now we know. The room is light, bright, patrolled by a troupe of radiantly enthusiastic staff and peopled by a predictably well-heeled crowd for whom this appears to be sort of high-end canteen. The food was full of flavour and, mostly, very well made. But - and here's the thing - we paid over eighty-odd quid for quiche, meatballs, salad and some cake, all of which I can do at home to a not dissimilar standard, and some of which I already have.
So what? Well, so nothing really. Maybe these places are for well off people who eat out all the time and don't fancy fish and chips or veal jus today, thanks all the same. Maybe they're for people who want home-style cooking, but not at home. Me, I'm going to keep nicking the ideas, and eat the same food for the price at which I can find broccoli in the Grainger market.
287 Upper Street
020 7288 1454