Sunday, 14 October 2012

North Road: Moving in the Right Direction

We are led to believe that a restaurant is all about the head chef.  That being so, if a head chef who has single handedly built a restaurant, a whole cuisine, leaves, one would think that the restaurant would struggle. Even if the number two is made up, the place would be missing the spark that the genius of the head chef had given.  

I booked North Road because of Christoffer Hruskova's cooking.  Having trained in the same places as Noma's Rene Redzepi, he has built a small corner of Scandinavia in central London.  Shortly after I reserved, he left - having fallen out with his co-owner he is off to set up on his own. Cue concern.  He was replaced by his number two,  Rafael Cagali.  Would he be able to continue the work of his former boss, or has the spark, the flame, that brought the hallowed Michelin star been snuffed out?  In a word, no. Quite simply a spectacular meal.

We went for the seven course tasting menu (there is no a la carte menu on Saturdays). One of the courses to drop out was the venison in ash.  I had heard such good things about this dish but, after initially appearing to be inflexible, our waiter agreed to allow me to swap my hogget for the venison (the Fashionista had the hogget so we got to try both).  The other dish to drop out was the mackerel.

While we were still deliberating between seven or nine courses, along came some amuse bouche.  Some crispy pork, a pickled quail's egg, a crisp bread and some new potatoes stuffed with a cheesy cream. All were delicious.  There was also a sack of little bread rolls, freshly baked.

Next up, dry and raw crab with cucumber. The dried crab was especially good.

Then the sweetest langoustine I had ever had, balanced by kohlrabi and the umami rich trumpet mushroom.  A real delight.

The next dish was described by our waiter as a "garden".  You could see what he meant, a sweet carrot was surrounded by various types of radish and both were sat atop what we were told was "soil" - a great dish visually but the cream cheese at the bottom just didn't work for me.  You could see what was being attempted but it didn't quite come together.

Then followed perfectly cooked monkfish, celeriac puree, sea aster and a seaweed foam.  Sea aster was a new one on me - a plant that thrives on salt marshes in Northern Europe.  It's slightly chewy texture complemented the monkfish. 

Then the meat course- the Fashionista's hogget was tender, served with earthy beets.  The violet flowers, beautiful as they were, didn't add much.  My venison was like an ashtray,  in a good way, like gunpowder tea but gamey. Fantastic.

Then came an additional course, a palate cleanser- wild celery granita with whipped yoghurt.  Weird combination, but it worked.  Like, really worked. Fresh, zingy, a real treat.

Then "hay and sea buckthorn" - I am not sure where the "hay" was but the buckthorn was deliciously sweet, the reindeer shape in the middle was a crisp malted biscuit.

Second last was what was described simply as "Kentish strawberries".  What came was fresh strawberries, a strawberry sorbet, strawberry marshmallows and a buttermilk parfait.  Perfect.

To end were some more marshmallows and sweets.  We were also given fully edible tree, about a foot high, made of biscuit, the leaves made of candy floss, the soil edible too.  Sadly in my excitement at this treat to end all treats I forgot to take any pictures.

So has North Road lost it.  There was some chatter that the people over at Michelin might take away the star until Cagali had proved himself in his own right.  I don't think that will be necessary.  It was by far and away the highlight of my recent Michelin splurge.  L'Autre Pied was too contrived, The River Cafe over-priced, Club Gascon simply solid.  North Road is exciting, fresh.  Its the kind of place you leave smiling from ear to ear - who wouldn't if they hadn't just been given a candy floss tree.  

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