ben spalding at john salt, islington

this was ben spalding’s 6 month pop-up in islington which got a lot of press, but is sadly no more - shortly before christmas john salt and ben spalding went their separate ways; a new chef is in place at john salt and ben is looking for something new while continuing later in the year with stripped back, his outdoor dining experience near broadway market.

we loved the food we ate, and while that was all about ben and his team, the setting was part of what made the evening fun – the restaurant was set on a mezzanine above a very loud and buzzy bar which created a very different atmosphere than you might otherwise be expecting in a restaurant where the only menu available that evening was 12 courses for £85.

all in all it was one of these meals where you know you’d be happy to have everything exactly as it was, when (not if!) you returned. given i can’t return, i’m consoling myself with my memories of a fun evening and am keen to see what ben comes up with next.

there are several dishes which have been much hyped, chicken on a brick in particular. this was a house brick coated with bitter caramel then a smear of chicken liver mousse, topped with lingon berries, sweet corn and crispy chicken skin. we were exorted to finish eating this by licking the caramel. i did this happily and loved the combination of flavours. it didn’t need to be served on a brick but i liked the interaction with the dish that resulted from this, so am pleased it was.

another dish which has been hyped and divided opinion was a scallop, kiwi and culatello “sandwich” with winter truffle and cider butter. the scallops were the outer layers of the sandwich and we ate this with our hands. it was slippy to hold and the juices were too good to miss out on so i ended up wiping my plate with my fingers which i then licked clean. another interactive experience and, for me, a set of flavours which really worked well together.

the vacherin risotto was a teeny portion of incredibly rich deliciousness, served with duck skin and, for me, a pomegranate vinaigrette (cucumber was the usual flavour but i hate the stuff).

an absolute contrast to this was a light and fresh 50 ingredient salad – a mix of vegetables, herbs, fruit, nuts and seeds plus sour cream (when this was served we were given a list of the ingredients* and it was fun spotting the different components). i think this dish really highlighted the skill of the kitchen – it was a coherent elegant dish despite the large number of ingredients (we experienced a similar approach last month at 21212 in edinburgh, but ben spalding’s dish was a more refined version).

there were plenty of other delicious dishes and thoughtfulness was apparent at every turn. from the breads and butters that are sourced from patrick johansson in goteborg in sweden, to the rare tea company’s incredible english peppermint tea. from the cleanser of warmed granny smith and pomegranate fizz (this is another dish which received mixed reviews but i liked it) which was poured into little glass bottles and drunk through a straw, to the added sense of expectation that was created by placing a sealed box on the table which we weren’t allowed to open until a few courses had passed, but were encouraged to smell and rattle (it turned out to contain a kaffir lime and mango macaron).

it was an evening of delicious food, friendly and thoughtful service (especially from our sommelier) and lots of fun. just perfect, really.

*carrot ribbons, beetroot pickle, cucumber, jerusalem artichoke, apple, pear, pomegranate, baby beets, pea shoots, mozzarella, kale, tomatoes, grated carrot, purple carrot, mooli, black radish, button mushroom, turnip, broccoli, radish, fennel, cauliflower shavings, rattes potato, parsley puree, rocket, frisee, watercress, pennywart, raspberry, melon, passionfruit, persimmon, blackberry, blueberry, grapefruit, navelina orange, pineapple, sicilian orange, tarragon, coriander, parsley, basil, purslane, chickweed, walnuts, sunflower seeds, linseeds, malt, dates, chocolate

ben spalding at john salt – now closed.

abby dysonlondonComment