As North Road’s website says, this is a restaurant that reflects chef-patron Christoffer Hruskova’s ‘Danish roots’. Digesting that idea alone, two thoughts immediately come to mind. First, why should Chef Hruskova shackle the restaurant to Danish cuisine given the potential obstruction to success that might result? Nordic Nibbler discussed this issue nicely in his blog review of the restaurant noting that ‘much of Scandinavia is a culinary desert, borne out of the harsh climate.’ I won’t repeat the case against it here but Nordic Nibbler’s post is worth reading in full and can be read here.
Second, and this might well be connected to the first point, the elevation of Noma to the pantheon means that comparisons will inevitably made between the two. Possibly brave, possibly foolhardy, guaranteed to get publicity but also a potential albatross around its neck, North Road may yet live to regret the invitation to compare. El Bulli inspired a raft of copycat restaurants so why shouldn’t Noma and given that it is rapidly becoming as difficult to get a table at Noma as it was at El Bulli, many will never get there. Advocates of North Road are already suggesting it’s a viable alternative and a lot closer to boot (if you live in London at least). Accordingly, we won’t shy away from comparison.
Given North Road’s recent opening, the place feels fresh, the whites still whiter than white. There’s a distinct Scandi feel to it, stylish but functional, adequate space and comfortable seating. With windows almost floor to ceiling, there’s plenty of natural light too during this lunch time service. What there’s not however are guests. There really is less than a handful of tables occupied at this midweek lunch service and that seems something of a shame; we hope this is just the January effect, they do deserve better.
Our two starters were Galloway short rib beef & milk skin, wild herbs & leeks, together with Raw cured hand dived Scottish scallops & smoked bone marrow, raw root vegetables & unripe elderberries. Both dishes we loved and these plates were definitely the highlight of the meal.
At Noma, there’s a dish called potato and dairy which contains potatoes (obviously), chervil and watercress with a milk skin the size of the plate. It works incredibly well and each of the elements contributes to the plate’s success. Here though, with my lovely short rib and sticky sauce, milk skin doesn’t stand a chance to be recognised and struggles for a reason to be on there. I can’t help but feel they would be better off freeing themselves of having to claim barbecue short ribs for Denmark by dressing it in greens and milk skin. But I did love the dish and could easily have enjoyed a plus size portion as a main. This was also ten times better barbecue than Barbecoa’s offering the previous week; who would have thought?
The other main was Norfolk venison & salsify, dried berries and smoked sauce. Again, the venison was also a touch dry; more of the smoked sauce would have been nice as what sauce there was quickly became absorbed by the salsify before it could compliment the venison. Given the quality of the meat, falling short here was a real disappointment.
Hugely creamy, by the end, it’s almost sickly sweet and overly heavy and needs something to lift it. Again, there were elements very similar to a Noma dessert that had a brown runny cheese centre and a similar strong creamy note; what Noma did though to lift the dish was to enclose it in a blackcurrant and beetroot granita which refreshed the mouth leaving you ready to enjoy the creaminess from fresh all over again. What we have here then is not a bad dessert but one which is not fully evolved.
Some will disagree with this assessment for sure and last December, Jay Rayner suggested that this same caramel dessert was a strong candidate for his dessert of the year. We’ve been disappointed by desserts across the board at restaurants in 2010 and we appreciate that this dessert is original. Even so, it still feels like a part of a dessert rather than a complete plate in its own right.
In a year’s time, this could be a really excellent restaurant, the potential does seem there and by all accounts, they have already shown they can take on board constructive feedback and have made good changes from the early weeks. @cityjohn and I both hope they succeed and both of us said we’d return.
Rene Redzepi, who previously worked in the kitchens at El Bulli, said he was taught there by Adria to think freely for himself as a chef; but he then said it was only when he could free himself of what he learned at El Bulli that he could use that freedom. I think North Road has to free itself of Noma to deliver an outstanding meal. The brave but probably right move would be for North Road to pare back the need to claim such a strong Danish connection and be more confident to do its own thing; only in that way will North Road’s offering becomes truly original but perhaps that’s not what Hruskova wants. Right now, it feels like North Road is riding Noma’s USP but I for one would much rather see them develop their own cuisine; the potential really is there, they just need to realise it.
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