X-Upper in Islington: Is sausage the new burger?
Every journey is a discovery, and for travellers open to the world, every new place offers the opportunity to explore cultures and find out more about ourselves. When Mariam French visited St Gallen in Switzerland a couple of years ago, she couldn’t foresee what that destination had in store for her. The city takes particular pride in its culinary traditions, electing the sausage as a firm favourite. The Swiss Olma, their national variety, is even depicted in the founder’s statue, in the hands of St Gallen. Surprised and delighted by the fine flavours that could be tasted in craft sausages, Mariam made a decision that led to a pretty radical career change and a new, exciting project. “We wanted to bring that love and affection for this product to the UK,” she said, and the idea of a restaurant which catered only the beloved street food was born.
152km, 14 European cities and 513 trialled sausages later, X-Upper opens in Islington. Featuring exposed brick walls, neon lights and urban art in popping colours, the interior reproduces a comfortable atmosphere situated somewhere between casual dining chain restaurants and industrial design.
A selection of craft beers from FourPure brewery and wines is available, but it’s actually the cocktail list that proves the best pairing for thirsty diners. The refreshing Rosemary’s Baby and Hugo are the most interesting concoctions.
The menu has been developed by Chef James Tanner, from Ready Steady Cook and Saturday Kitchen, together with Francesco di Marzio, who was executive chef at two-Michelin-star restaurant the Greenhouse. Six sausages form the core, but there are daily specials added to the list, as well as a veggie option. The plates bring an exceptionally good variety of artisanal products to the table from across the continent. “No one has made that effort to go around Europe and find the best butchers for the local products,” French further explained. “So, we did it!” The sausages are sourced mostly from family-run traders, guaranteeing the least industrial treatment to the produce, which relishes full flavours. They are matched with sauces that exalt or soften their meaty characters, and accompanied by either ciabatta bread or milk and honey sourdough slices.
Highly recommended is the queen of bratwursts, the Swiss Olma, where X-Upper’s journey started; after just one bite of it, there is no need to wonder why. The sausage, which earned a Protect Geographical Indication, mixes pork and veal meat, cooked with Swiss milk. It is a true delicacy, mild and melting in the mouth, served with purple mustard and pickled red cabbage. Another must is the Skinny Chick. Straight from Borough Market, this seven-per cent-fat sausage is sourced from a butcher specialising in free range. This very juicy dish celebrates the simple satisfaction of pure meat.
For those seeking stronger notes, the Rioja Picante is the choice to go for. No colours are added; it’s just high-quality paprika which gives the Spanish option its distinctive shade. One of the fattiest sausages on offer, it comes with mojo rojo sauce, which adds that extra touch of tarragon and chilli in a creamy texture.
Emmental cheese oozes from the Austrian KK, while the Italian Romagna leaves you with a hint of spicy aftertaste. The beef and lamb French mix stands in contrast to the smoky Polish Grillowa.
The food cultures of each country seep into all the different combinations, and that is thanks to French, whose passion shines through in the dishes. The result efficiently slashes any preconceived idea of those who knew this only as a commercial product. Let’s see if London picks up sausages with the same enthusiasm it did with burgers.
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at X-Upper, 88 Upper Street London N1 0NP, call 020 3620 9688 or visit their website here.