Two months ago I had dinner at John Salt on Upper Street in Islington. It’s a neighbourhood bar and restaurant which was home to Ben Spalding for a 6 month residency and I thought it was rather bloomin’ lovely. After hearing the news that Ben and John Salt had sadly parted ways four months early (meaning I wouldn’t be able to return and try his 45 ingredient salad) I was curious as to who would replace him.
That man is baseball cap wearing Neil Rankin, former head chef at Pitt Cue Co (the kings of pulled pork). I ate there when he was behind the grills and absolutely loved it but have never had the chance to eat his own food. I was super excited then when I was rather kindly invited to a menu tasting night at John Salt to sample nearly all of the dishes from his new menu.
We started off with oysters and beef fat mayo (Â£5) which came deep fried and encased in a beautifully crisp batter. The oysters were soft and had a little hint of vinegar which was lovely.
The crab and fennel on pork skin (Â£7) was a great combination. The pork scratching which looked like a Quaver was the perfect base for all that soft delicate white crab meat. A good squirt of lemon helped cut through the richness from the crab and pork skin.
The raw bass, apple and bergamot (Â£6) divided the table. Some said the bergamot overpowered the bass but I actually couldn’t taste any. For me, the soft bass with the cubed apple and bits of crispy salty skin worked a treat!
A real highlight of the night was raw beef, pear and sesameÂ (Â£5). The beef was cut into larger pieces than in any steak tartare I’ve had before which I loved. The raw beef was so delicate and soft it went beautifully with the sesame and cubes of pear.
The pork floss, popcorn, bay and smoked loin (Â£4) was a porky popcorn treat. It was meaty, sweet and salty – what’s not to like?
The whole Megrim Sole in bone sauce (Â£14) was cooked to perfection – seriously soft it cut like butter. The bone sauce had a really strong fishy taste yet wasn’t too overpowering.
Another highlight for me were the scallops with peanut and shrimps (Â£4 each). They were cooked to perfection and the sweet and salty soy-like sauce they were drenched in was heavenly. If all this food wasn’t enough it just kept on coming – I was in heaven!
The skirt steak (Â£10) was as rare as rare can be yet it had a darkened crisp exterior. The flavour from the beef was amazing and the kimchi hollandaise served alongside it was nothing short of phenomenal. Kimchi and hollandaise – why has this never been done before? Why?!
The baked crab with bisque butter (Â£11 half/Â£17 whole) was as delicious as everything else I had devoured. Served with claw crackers and a pointy fork, it was left for you to get the crab meat out yourself. My hands were covered in splinters from the crab’s legs but my God was it worth the trip to A&E afterwards!
The very best things I ate that night came in the form of the two side dishes. The frites (not chips) with pulled pork, kimchi and cheese (Â£4) were so delicious I could have eaten only them and gone home a happy chappy. This was no side dish – it was worthy of being a main dish all by itself! The chicken skin hash (Â£3.50) was insanely good too. I hate peas and sweet corn but put them together with roast potatoes, crispy chicken skin and an egg yolk and I’ll eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I rather worryingly had room for dessert too. The banana dog (Â£4) was reminiscent of the battered bananas I used to have for pudding at my local Chinese – but this was the pimped up version. There’s something so comforting about hot bananas. The old fashioned trifle with clementine (Â£5) was a creamy delight which I loved. My favourite pudding was the bacon panna cotta (Â£3.50) which isn’t for the faint hearted. It’s creamy bacon topped with meaty cornflakes – which is my idea of pure bliss I’ll have you know.
So that’s that, a night of amazing food and generosity from Neil for inviting us. He’s a lovely bloke too which always helps so I’m sure his residency will go swimmingly. I’ll be back for sure. Thank God I’m not a vegetarian!