131 Upper Street isn’t the most obvious choice for this low-key bistro, but it’s what’s inside that counts. In the wake of some mysterious drama when head chef Ben Spalding left mere months after John Salt’s launch, the venue has bounced back and instilled Neil Rankin instead. Now, the restaurant offers plenty of hearty meat dishes with a notable flair for smoked, fried, barbecued and grilled meat.
Don’t let the tiny venue and informal atmosphere fool you – the small plates that come rolling out the kitchen are fine dining, and Rankin has taken the best of a small situation and impressed the critics. Inside, expect polished cement floors and high, industrial ceilings strung with bare bulbs. The bar is unfinished wood as are the seats, and there’s the obligatory wall of unplastered brick.
On the menu, ingredients come from all over but somehow the dishes remain modern and distinctly British. There’s a crab and fennel remoulade served with pork scratchings so light they nearly float off the table, monkfish with battered clementine slices and mullet tartare with fresh, herby bergamot and apple.
The mains tend to get similar treatment: fresh fish, skirt steak and pork is smoked on various woods then deep fried and served up with unexpected lashings of kimchi, citrus, Asian inspired fusion salads and pretty garnishes. Potatoes are crispy and perfectly done, the pork shoulder in all its manifestations is meltingly good and there are a few odd additions to the menu, like the bacon panna cotta. Also on offer is a competent list of cocktails, craft beers and wines, if you can find any more room on the table.
John Salt is an exercise is hi-lo dining, brilliantly combining meaty, manly grills with just enough flair and experimentation to make its diners forget that they are in a rather loud neighbourhood. Go on a weeknight before the clubbers start turning up the music.
Check out John Salt here
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