100 Islington: Mediterranean cuisine meets Asian flavours
Fusion cuisine – the bane of the mid to late noughties, the residual evils of those two words still striking fear into the heart of every restaurant-goer. In theory, it can work: the combination of two distinct cuisines become something more than the sum of their parts. In practice, the result is usually one of equally confused diners and plates (think: curry with pasta, BBQ shrimp with patatas bravas). 100 Islington, thankfully, isn’t exactly fusion cuisine. It does share that same underlying oddity about its identity, though; the core concept is supposedly “simple, small sharing plates drawing mainly from Asian flavours, spices and ingredients.”
Yet, it’s the Asian component of the menu that has issues. Of that section, there are two highlights: Okra Dahl, with Salad, Caramelised Onion and Spinach Paneer has an excellent balance of sweet, savoury and salty flavours, whilst the treacly meat in Chilli Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage and a Fried Egg is an intriguing contrast to the otherwise spicy dish. We’re on the fence about the 100 HOXTON cocktail which consists of ginger, chilli, Kwai Feh lychee liqueur and lemon. On it’s own, it’s a bit too punchy for sipping, but it compliments the food very well. Pork Belly with Papaya Salad and Adobo Sauce, though, struggles with both concept and execution. The pork itself is dry and overcooked, whilst all that fat bullies the papaya into submission in an instant.
Singapore Soft Shell Chilli Crab, with peanut and lime is perfectly cooked but completely lacks that stab of chilli heat you’d expect, meaning what would otherwise be an excellent peanut sauce ends up simply being overly sweet and mild. Burnt Eggplant Salad with Coconut, Granny Smith, Hazelnut and Cherry Tomato is a nice enough dish, but the coconut feels like an unnecessary attempt at an Asian twist: everything it offers is already being provided by the hazelnut.
What makes the entire thing stranger is that the menu is almost dominated by North African and Mediterranean influences, likely due to chef Francis Puyat having previously worked in the kitchen at NOPI. That touch of owner and chef Yoman Ottolenghi shows in Courgette and Halloumi Fritters that whisk you away to the perfect white streets of Santorini in a whirlwind of salty, springy cheese, all beautifully cut through by a Preserved Lemon Yogurt with just the right touch of tanginess. Chargrilled Lamb Belly with Aubergine, Burnt Goat’s Cheese, and Green Tahini is full of flavour, the almost caramelised aubergine working especially well with pungent orbs of goat’s cheese.
Both desserts are fantastic, with a slight edge being given to a creamy Mango Baked Custard that was bursting with fresh fruity flavour. Not that our Chocolate Fondant wasn’t great – a classic pairing of oozingly indulgent chocolate with a refreshing touch of orange – but if anything, it left us more confused than ever.
As an Asian, small-plates experience, 100 Islington didn’t exactly wow us, but we left with the distinct feeling that, beneath all of that, there may very well be a great Mediterranean restaurant trying to break free.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Helen Jackson
To book a table at 100 Islington, 270 Upper St, London, N1 2UQ, call 020 7226 1118 or visit here.