Salut! in Islington: An ambitious but accessible local restaurant
Did you know that, while in France frog legs are a common dish, in certain parts of the world frogs are cooked entirely, sometimes simmered and blitzed into a soup? Perhaps fortunately, it would appear that the people of Islington are not yet ready for this; to make abundantly clear the European influence, Salut! sticks to the tradition of their French chef, Fabien Gailly. But we’ll get to that later.
We started with whipped butter flavoured with mushroom and truffle. Rich, earthy and decadent, it made the bread feel more like a canapé. Our meal continued with After the Rain, the aforementioned frog legs. Crispy and packed with flavour, they were excellent: the wild mushrooms, which form the base of the dish, provide an effective contrast in texture and are generously portioned. A cold Peppered Octopus starter was even more impressive, both tender and packing great flavour, something hard to achieve when not serving hot. It was accompanied by a squid ink tuile and a piquillos sauce, but in truth the octopus was the star of the show here which was no bad thing.
A main of mallard – a skilfully cooked breast and a tougher, though tasteful, confit leg – came with jerusalem artichoke crisps and purée, encased in globe artichokes. The vegetables really stood well with the wild duck. Pan-fried Halibut with variations of beetroot and tarragon was a more unusual dish. The halibut was flawless and a mixture of beetroot textures paired well, without overpowering the fish. Tarragon bubbles added a touch of theatre to proceedings, its lightness working well within the context of the course. The fish was served skin side down, something I would usually consider bizarre – serve it crispy or remove it – but here it was one of the unexpected highlights of the meal. Unctuous and fatty, it added a wonderful richness to the dish. Utterly unexpected but completely wonderful.
A dessert of Red Berries Pavlova was good but slightly ordinary, the blackcurrant sorbet very clearly the strongest element. The meringue appeared as crispy shards, which, although fine in theory, removed something of the essence of a pavlova having no slightly sticky indulgent middle. A cheeseboard put together by French cheesemaker Bernard Mure-Ravaud, winner of the International Caseus Award, was interestingly varied, taking in picodon, beaufort chalet d’alpage, iraty aux deux lait, brillat-savarin with truffle and timanoix.
The standard of cooking of Salut! is high, with a few wobbles along the way – at around £50 a head for a three-course dinner perhaps an amuse-bouche or pre-dessert from the kitchen wouldn’t go amiss. These are niggling complaints though, and overall the food here was excellent, the service attentive and the general ambience they’ve managed to curate in a small space was warm and welcoming.
Salut! is the kind of ambitious but accessible restaurant that you hope opens up within your postcode; and if yours isn’t N1, it’s worthy of a trip.[verdictfood]?
Photos: Scott Hobson-Jones
To book a table at Salut!,412 Essex Road London N1 3PJ, call 020 3441 8808 or visit their website here.