Owned by brothers Ian and David Macintosh, Heirloom in Crouch End opened in June 2014 in a parade of shops, replacing a Chinese restaurant. The name Heirloom is not just a marketing gimmick – they use vegetable grown in a dedicated plot on Hazeldene farm near Amersham, some of them breeds of vegetable that are in danger of disappearing. The kitchen also uses some rare-breed meat, such as Japanese sika deer. Vegetables from the Buckinghamshire farm are supplemented by ones from Rungis market in Paris.
Chef Chris Slaughter was previously at The Pig and Butcher pub in Islington, The Princess of Shoreditch and before that at Sands End and The Crown in Burchett’s Green. Unlike many chefs these days, Chris butchers all his own meat rather than relying on pre-packed portions. Just four chefs were working in the kitchen tonight.
The ground floor dining room extends quite a long way to an area at the back with a skylight, and seats 70 customers at any one time. Décor is casual, with a tiled floor and no tablecloths. The hard surfaces mean that noise levels can climb quickly despite the quite well-spaced tables, peaking at 75 decibels in our section (equivalent to having a vacuum cleaner running in the background). There was a seven-course tasting menu, a full vegetarian tasting menu too, as well as an à la carte choice, with four courses costing £36.50.
The wine list here had just over 50 labels, ranging from £22.50 to £99.50, with a median price of £37.50 and an average mark-up of three times the retail price. Example wines were Sobre Lias Albarino 2010 at £35.75 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £14, Pheasant’s Tears at £47.50 compared to a retail price of £16, and Raul Perez Ultreia Valtuille 2012 at £99.50 for a label that costs £46 in a shop. There was also a range of craft beers.
Sourdough bread is made from scratch in the kitchen. It is based on a three year old starter with a whole grain organic spelt, and a bread spice mix involving caraway, poppy, sunflower and fennel. It was really good, served warm, tasting subtly of the fennel and caraway. The crust was excellent, the texture soft: some of the best bread I have eaten in a while (easily 16/20).
An initial nibble was cheese fritters made using Lord Burgh cheese with a mustard and cheese sauce. These were well made, though I am not sure that the fritters really needed a cheese sauce too – perhaps something sharp as a contrast to the richness of the filling might have worked better (13/20).
Crab with asparagus came with brown butter Hollandaise sauce and butteroak lettuce. The white asparagus was seasonal and had good flavour and the crab was fine (13/20). Pork terrine came wrapped in pata negra, with radish and black pudding salt. The terrine was excellent, coarse in texture but with deep pork flavour, the radish an earthy contrast (15/20). Saffron potato puree with clams had pleasant texture and tender clams, the saffron flavour not too dominant (13/20).
Raw scallop hazelnut and frozen horseradish came with Granny Smith apple jus. This worked quite well, the scallop sweet, the apple flavour a logical acidic contrast to the scallops, the horseradish fairly subtle and lifting the dish (14/20). Halibut came with sprouting broccoli, leeks, Jersey Royals, mushrooms and cep butter. The fish was carefully cooked, well seasoned and had excellent flavour, the potatoes were perhaps a fraction overcooked but still tasted good, and the leeks were of very high quality (15/20). An intermediate course of turnips roasted in porter beer (a dark beer made from brown malt) was decent enough, though for me there is a limit as to how exciting a turnip can be made, even with beer (12/20).
Sika deer haunch came with morels, kohlrabi, wild garlic, onion sprouts and labneh (a soft cheese made from strained yoghurt). The venison had plenty of flavour, the wild garlic was particularly good and the Turkish morels were fine (14/20). A vegetarian alternative had puy lentils with morels, enoki mushrooms, barbecued Asian greens and onion crumb. The greens were lovely in this with a pleasing smoky flavour note, and the lentils were tender (14/20).
For dessert, pistachio cake had nice texture, and good quality rhubarb was both poached and stewed, the acidity of the rhubarb working well with the cake (13/20). With no coffee machine in the dining room at the moment, we had Black Sheep coffee from a cafetiere, which to be honest didn’t inspire me. Service was excellent throughout, despite the packed house (100 covers were booked on the evening of our visit) and the bill came to £59 per person with just some glasses of Riesling and some water to drink. If you shared a bottle of modest wine then a typical bill might be £55 a head.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the meal at Heirloom. The menu was appealing, the quality of ingredients unusually good, prices were fair and the best dishes were very impressive. I can easily understand why it was so busy.