Jaks is a pleasantly relaxed neighbourhood restaurant, avoiding the stuffiness that might be expected in this part of London, but also managing to avoid the pretension that might equally be expected. The basement dining room is simple, the menu a limited set of modern British choices, the service relaxed but able. The cooking generally delivered well enough, with no great flair but no technical errors either, which is relief enough. You have the impression that the kitchen is cooking within itself. The crew are all ex Chapter Two and have settled into a similar rhythm. Here are notes from my last meal there.
The owner previously ran a catering and entertainment firm, so this is a bit of a departure. However he has wisely recruited an experienced team from Chapter Two in Blackheath to cook, along with a few waiters from the same establishment. Jaks seems genuinely relaxed rather than trying to impress you. You enter at street level to an unpromising room with a welcome desk and three tables, though this area was unmanned for much of the evening, which must be disconcerting to spontaneous diners passing by. The laptop PC on the welcome desk appeared firmly locked down, though they’d be advised not to try that in the East End, where local ingenuity would take a matter of seconds to deal with the security cable.
The dining room is downstairs and had low ceilings. It was quite plain, with pine flooring, white walls and ceiling, and simple ash chairs with green upholstery. Yet tables had linen tablecloths and napkins, and there are side-plates for the bread (albeit the ubiquitous Churchill plain white catering crockery). The walls had a few eclectic black and white photographs but are otherwise unadorned. Lighting is from ceiling spots and could have been a little brighter. The tables each have a glass vase, inside of which were coloured glass beads rather than flowers, which presumably would not flourish in the basement. Otherwise the tables were plain, with not even salt and pepper. Warm bread arrives near the beginning, a mixture of plain white thick slices, with brown slices that are surprisingly rich, almost like molasses bread. The kitchen restricts itself to a limited number of dishes. The wine list fits on a page, with ten whites, a few more reds and some champagne from around the world. The typeface of the wine list could do with being larger given the slightly gloomy lighting. There was a fair selection under £20, and most wines are under £35, with a few costlier French reds. Mineral water is Hildon. Waiters and waitresses are fairly casual, wearing black trousers and white shirts, and keep things casual e.g. the wine is left on the table for customers to top up. However there is no trouble getting attention, the dishes are brought at a fair clip and the waiter remembered who had ordered what. There were no amuse-bouches. Background music was initially Queen and then the Fine Young Cannibals, though the 80s cool was rather undermined by the later introduction of some Gene Pitney.
My wife ate grilled red mullet and crab mash. The mullet was reasonably cooked and moist, but the crab mash was rather dry and did not taste much of crab at all, just picking up the taste of some mixed herbs with which it was prepared. There was a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette that seemed more for display than taste, and on appearance the fairly uniform colour could have benefited from a little green, perhaps some herbs or a few salad leaves (2/10). I tried the sardine, shallot and green bean salad. This was pleasantly presented, the single sardine displayed on a bed of broad beans and a few salad leaves with shredded shallots around the side, with just a thin emulsion of dressing. The sardine was cooked lightly, and retained its distinctive taste well, while the broad beans were good quality and tender. The shallots were shredded in a chutney form, cooked a little long for my taste and had begun to lose texture but had not gone as far as caramelising. Overall 3/10 for this dish.
My wife had sole that had been poached in cider, an interesting idea but one that ended up with the sole, which has a delicate flavour, just tasting watery. Some prawns served with it (were these necessary?) were rather chewy, though a central swirl of pasta had reasonable texture. There were already flavours enough here without some rather superfluous mussels, some in their shells and some surrounding the sole. The fish rested in what was presumably intended to be a beurre blanc but which was far too watery for its own good (1/10). I fared better with poussin served in a casserole dish, cooked with a few peas, a little asparagus and some morels. The poussin was cooked through well, still moist and firm, and the peas were fresh. However the asparagus and morels were not very high quality, so did little to enhance the dish as they should have, since they were fairly tasteless.
Three cheeses were offered. A cheese from Bath was long past its best, and a St Nectaire was rather young, but a slice of Roquefort was in good condition (cheeses 1/10 at most). This was served with some pleasant home-made walnut and raisin bread and some sadly misjudged onion chutney, which looked stringy and tasted remarkably nondescript. Passion fruit sorbet arrived as two spheres served in a large wine glass. The sorbet had fair passion fruit flavour, but was a touch acidic, while the texture was not perfect, with some ice crystals (3/10). My wife’s pistachio ice cream was served in the same style but was smoother and had good pistachio flavour. The chocolate waffles were possibly not home made but tasted of chocolate, and had acceptable texture (3/10).