Editor's note - On 31st August 2012 it was reported by The Caterer that the chef was leaving North Road. The restaurant closed in December 2012.
North Road hints at the Danish origins of chef/patron Christoffer Hruskova, who opened this 58 seat restaurant on the 15th November 2010. Christopher worked for a year at the King Hans restaurant in Denmark, and subsequently opened a restaurant in Islington called Fig in 2006, which became Fig Bistro. The new premises (which used to be The Clerkenwell) are towards the south end of St John Street, with a dining room divided into two sections. Décor is conventional with wooden floor, white walls and quite good lighting. Starters were mostly £8 - £9, main courses £17 - £19.50 and desserts £7. The wine list has quite broad international coverage: Pfister Gewurtztraminer 2007 was £41.50 for a wine that retails at around £14, Isole e Olena Chardonnay 2008 was £76 for a wine that you can buy in the shops for around £26, and we drank the Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2006 at £61 for a wine that you can buy retail for around £17. As we looked at the menu some crisp chicken and pork skin as well as pickled quail eggs arrived. The pork skin had nice flavour but was over-salty even for me, while the chicken skin did not have much distinct taste. Bread was a single choice of a bought-in mini-roll that had dull texture and lacked salt (11/20). Apparently there are plans to bake bread from scratch, and this would be a good plan; if not then they should certainly buy better than this.
The best dish of the meal by far was a starter of scallops with apple, bitter cress and hazelnut, and a translucent apple jelly. The scallops were correctly cooked and had some sweetness, and the acidity of the apple was a nice balance to the scallops (comfortably 13/20). Less good was a dish of pink potatoes, artichokes and black truffle – the potatoes were under-seasoned and had little flavour, while the pea shoot garnish was limp; the artichokes were better, but I didn’t find this a very appealing dish, and my wife left most of it (10/20).
A main course of brill with stewed salsify and herb oil had brill that was cooked reasonably well but again lacked seasoning (11/20). I tried venison with beetroot with smoked bone marrow. The venison seemed to be cooked properly, but it was hard to tell because the dish was utterly dominated by the beetroot; as well as beets on the side, the meat was doused in beetroot juice. I like both venison and beetroot, but here the balance of the dish seemed to be entirely out of synch, and I didn’t finish the dish (10/20).
Desserts did not appeal to me, and the cheese “selection” turned out on inquiry to be just a single sheep cheese, so we skipped this. Service from our waiter had been pleasant throughout the evening, though I was a little surprised given that we had not finished one starter and one main course, and explained that we were not happy with them, that no manager had appeared to inquire further.
The bill then appeared with all dishes included, including the ones we had complained about and had not finished. Only at this point did a manageress appear, who grudgingly removed one starter from the bill. I don’t think this is really a smart policy from a customer relations viewpoint. Even the adjusted bill came to over £60 a head for two courses (admittedly with a good wine). This was a frustrating meal given that the very nice scallop starter showed that the kitchen is capable of good dishes. It is difficult to score the meal given the range of quality of the dishes that we ate. Objectively the food was somewhere between 10/20 and 11/20 overall, but this does not represent value for money in my view, and I would not wish to come back given the prickly service experience.
In the end I was sufficiently hungry to head off for a bagel at the excellent 24 hour bagel shop in Brick Lane; at £1.40 for a smoked salmon bagel this is a real bargain, unlike North Road.