My birthday dinner at North Road , a high end Danish restaurant in Clerkenwell, was fantastic. The Danish chef Christoffer Hruskova (interviewed here) has, since his opening in 2010, achieved a Michelin star with his clean and precise Nordic cooking – very much the flavour of the moment. Noma in Copenhagen has won the Best Restaurant of the World award for two years running and Jay Rayner describes Hruskova’s cooking to be “about as close as you’ll get to Redzepi’s (Noma’s chef) without buying a plane ticket”.
I have not been to Noma (yet!) and my experience with Scandinavian cuisine is rather limited. I however tremendously enjoyed the simple and local ingredients (all the produce used at North Road are from the British Isles – apart from the limes, the lemons and the coffee (but even this is roasted in Britain)) used and put together so cleverly that the result tastes so effortless and yet so sophisticated. It is refreshing to sample food that is stripped down to few main components and tasting Hruskova’s dishes sent shivers of happiness and pleasure down my spine.
We chose the 5 course tasting menu (Â£60, Â£67 for 7 courses) with wine pairing (another Â£40, Â£49 for 7) – so this is clearly a special occasion restaurant. Despair not though, North Road does a lunch and pre-theatre menu for unbelievable Â£25 for 3 courses. There is almost no excuse at all not to immediately pay North Road a visit.
The 3 amuse bouches were all successful putting us in the right mood for things to come. Little smoked potatoes lying snugly on a bed of fresh thyme leaves were gorgeous in their subtle smokiness. The incredibly crispy pork skin melted in my mouth and the pickled quail’s egg (pickled for at least 24 hours in vinegar and sugar) convinced with their oozing egg yolk and a light acidity.
It is not often that I dream about butter, but the butter at North Road is a revelation. Heated and then cooled, the salted butter caramelises and this nutty and malty gorgeousness is alone worth the visit. The accompanying tiny rolls made of white or dark flour were unexciting, but then again they were the perfect butter vehicle.
Let’s not talk about the presentation of the first dish of the tasting menu, Dorset Shrimp or also called “The Sea”. It was resting on an unattractive cooled parcel of water and sea weed which was not very nicely sealed and was not to be eaten, therefore of questionable relevance. The main thing is the food though and this consisted of beautifully tender raw shrimp topped with a salty mussle foam and sea purslane leaves, a glorious composition of flavours evoking pictures of the Nordic coast in front of my mental eye and I could almost smell the rough sea. This dish was accompanied by a light and fruity Arcese Bianco, Italy 2007 from the Piemont.
Portrayed to us as the most Danish dish on the menu this was my favourite of the evening. The Danish component was the hay smoked cheese, which doesn’t look that appetising but was absolutely stunning. Smoky, creamy and strong it was an excellent partner for the Wild and cultivated Kent vegetables of still crunchy carrots, leeks and radish with wild garlic and black mustard leaves. It was well complemented by a St. Veran Les Mandeliers, Domain Combier 2009.
The first meat dish was English rose veal tartar & dried vinegar, lovely and fresh hand-cut veal covered by potatoes and dill as well as oyster mushrooms, a perfectly balanced dish. I usually hate dill, but luckily it was so subtle in this dish that it was hard to pick up as a single flavour. It came with my favourite wine of the evening, the Austrian Blaufraenkisch Nittnaus, 2008.
Cheshire kid & carrots consisted of exquisite and tender medium rare mutton in a rich and flavourful goat butter. The carrots were cooked in 3 ways – raw, pan fried and boiled and the combination of the sweet carrots with the intense flavour of the meat and the summer truffle shavings was superb. The wine match for this dish was a smooth red, Chorey-Les-Beaunes, Domaine Laleur-Piot, France 2009
Maybe the least convincing but somehow fun was the dessert course, Birch, Pine & Malt or “The Forest”, which was totally not sweet. Birch parfait came with frozen pine and malt crumbs and definitely challenged my view on desserts… My sugar craving was sated with the petit fours of salted caramels (absolutely stunning) and some white chocolate things (not very good). I had not eaten cotton candy for about 25 years and was surprised how much I enjoyed the cotton candy trees together with the edible soil. A surprisingly playful ending for a restaurant that takes its food very seriously.
I loved our blond and baby-faced Danish waiter who was attentive and knowledgeable about food, ingredients, wine and preparation techniques and did not have the over-the-top behaviour of waiters that you often encounter in high-end restaurants and that can really spoil your evening.
Having said all that, it was a Saturday evening and the North Road was two thirds empty. Why? I have no idea. It might be the hefty price tag or the fact that Danish is not to everyone’s taste. I hope Londoners discover this gem and may it be around for a long time!
- Food: 9/10
- Ambiance: 7/10
- Service: 9/10
- Value for Money: 6/10
- Chances of Returning: 100%
- Verdict: one of the best meals I have had this year