During Ben Spalding's 'blink and you'll miss it' time as Head Chef at John Salt, he produced some of the most exciting food to come out of the otherwise artery-busting, yet delicious, fare which London has been swimming in over the last 12 months. Waiting lists for a table grew by the day, it seemed to be an unstoppable culinary force and a fantastic coup for 580 Ltd, who perhaps were more well known for their music pubs such as The Lock Tavern or annual festival Field Day. But, after two short months, more hype and publicity of any restaurant opening in 2012 (albeit justified) and with just a smidge of 'he said she said' he was gone. And the seemingly difficult task to re-imagine a new menu and its swift conviction with as little fall out from Spalding's departure as possible, has fallen to Neil Rankin, former head chef at BBQ legends Pitt Cue Co.
Its a bitterly cold Friday night on Upper Street and a table by a warm radiator is most welcome. The crowd is a mixed bag of foodies, after work drinkers and almost everyone else in between as its really busy, and a sneak at the booking form as we took our seats indicated a full house for food that night. Yes....I'm THAT nosey. But fortunately dinner has been extended to the downstairs areas too.
After a peruse through the extensive drinks list consisting of some truly delicious cocktails courtesy of Soulshakers, and a vast amount of lagers, pale ales and porters, 'Angels Kiss' (Somerset cider brandy, gin, raspberries, pineapple, lemon and sage) and a pint of Kernel IPA were decided on. The cocktail was delicious, slightly acidic courtesy of the lemon and pineapple but avoided being sour. And my other half on the Kernal IPA 'yeah its lovely'. So there you have it.
When it comes to much hyped openings, the menus seem to hit many a social media site long before you have time to get there, so truth be told, we had an inkling as to what would be eaten before we walked through the door. A starter of crab and fennel on pork skin and another of burnt leeks, egg yolk, parmesan and truffle vinaigrette were first up. Its evident as soon as the crab arrives it has been supplied by Newlyn Fish Market (yes it says so on the menu but you can definitely tell!) Even from the smell, the quality of it cannot be denied. And thankfully it hasn't been too tampered with once its in Rankin's hands. Save for a light seasoning with fennel. The huge chunk of pork skin is where the dish gets a saltiness and adds a depth of flavour it seems it would be lost without. The burnt leeks sprinkled with parmesan are amazing. That combination alone is enough, but then to add the velvety texture of the egg yolk and the light sweep of truffle vinaigrette is like angel dust.
After careful consideration, and around 8 readings of the menu, I went for the Ribeye, after reading in recent weeks that Neil Rankin was going to be using coal and a more BBQ style in his cooking (not in a bottle bbq sauce kind of way, but real BBQ food) and when the flavourful charred outside, and the most sumptuous pink meat inside, glistening with cracked salt across the top landed on my plate, I knew I'd made the right choice. This came with a gorgeous and flavoursome kimchi hollandaise that had a slight kick but worked perfectly with the meat. My other half was bitterly disappointed as they were out of whole crabs but he plumped for the half coal baked crab instead. (I'm still unsure as to why he couldn't have two half crabs to make a whole one, my understanding of fish maths perhaps hazy?) however the crab meat was infused with a gorgeous smokiness from the coal, and teamed with a bisque sauce so utterly delicious my other half practically drank it from the serving jug, his disappointment was short lived. Side dishes were a chicken skin hash with another velvety egg yolk hiding among the potatoes, sweetcorn and peas which were delicious, and secondly, skinny fries topped with kimchi, pulled pork and cheese. (not pictured). This was a mammoth of a side dish, maybe more aptly named 'kimchi, pulled pork, cheese with a garnish of fries'. Kimchi doesn't make for a light topping, its heavy and rich, but it was delicious, if just slightly too big.
Now one may think after all this food it would be time to roll on home and pop a couple of Rennies for the journey. NEVER. One banana dog and two spoons please! The banana dog. WOW. It was utterly indulgent and utterly delicious, and yes, utterly phallic. Fried in a sugary, cinnamon-y batter and served with vanilla ice cream, it disappeared in mere seconds. It was a perfect end to a near perfect dinner. And I already want to go back. 580 Ltd needed something big to compensate the loss of Ben Spalding and its safe to say that Neil Rankin is a damn near perfect fit.
ps. Not wanting to disturb those who aren't there to take pictures of every morsel, these pictures aren't fantastic. The lighting is quite dark in John Salt and flashing a camera every thirty seconds just isn't cool. You can have a look at John Salts facebook for more pictures.