North Road is a leading exponent of modern Danish cuisine. Opened in November 2010 by chef patron Christoffer Hruskova, it takes to new heights a style he pioneered in London at the Fig in Barnsbury. The move to St John Street in trendy Clerkenwell, home to a diverse range of successful restaurants, gives wider scope to attract a more adventurous, discerning clientele. There is space for 70 diners, including 14 in the mezzanine level private dining area.
The décor features natural textures and colours, with a heavy emphasis of white and beige. The elegant bar has stools designed by Norman Chermer. The stylish dining room, divided into two sections, is lit by a strikingly attractive row of giant balloon like bulbs designed by Serge Mouille. At one end, a mirrored wall adds to the sense of space and light in what is a fairly narrow room. Tables, which line the sparsely decorated plain white walls, are well spaced and dressed with fine napery. Comfortable seating is provided by leather banquettes and classic carver chairs in light oak designed by J L Moller. Overall, the simple, clean lines and uncluttered look give a refined, sophisticated feel.
Christoffer Hruskova has a distinguished pedigree that includes experience at Copenhagen’s Michelin-starred restaurant Kong Hans, Tetsuya in Sydney and Jardinière in San Francisco. In a Scandinavian style that has reached the heights of gastronomic credibility, his cooking treats the bounties of earth and sea in a simple yet robust way that maximises natural tastes and flavours. Pickling and smoking, or serving food raw, are favoured techniques, although the technology of modern kitchens is not ignored. All ingredients, including many foraged ones, are sourced from the UK. True to his Danish roots, the chef shuns classic French and Mediterranean produce such as olive oil, olives, tomatoes and bulb garlic. Flavours, therefore, are not strong, but pure and subtle, allowing the main ingredients to speak for themselves.
Whether choosing from the carte, or opting for the tasting menu, the diner can be assured of sound technique, clarity of flavour and clean presentation. Whilst not cheap –starters average £9.50, main courses £23 and desserts £8 – prices are justified by the quality of ingredients and the skill of cooking. Moreover, compared with other Michelin starred restaurants in the City and West End, they are extremely competitive.
Fine Dining Guide visited North Road on a weekday evening in May 2012. The tasting menu (seven courses £67, with wines, £49) was chosen which fully revealed the range of ingredients and cooking techniques employed.
A trio of amuse bouches immediately demonstrated the skill of the kitchen: pork skin was puffed up to ethereal lightness; Jersey Royals were filled with a flavoursome haddock protein mayonnaise, and pickled quails eggs retained their soft oozing yolks.
Warm malt and spelt rolls, both with dense textured crumb, were shaped like muffins and served in a miniature rustic sack. The accompanying brown butter had a satisfying nutty flavour reminiscent of beurre noisette.
The first course featured the raw Dorset crab and cockle juice jelly. The preparation technique – immersing the crab in soda water which was then frozen – preserved the wonderful sweetness of the white meat. The cockle juice jelly, set by its own proteins and encasing coastal herbs, added a savoury but not overpowering note. Decorated with rye crisps and wild garlic flowers, and lifted with apple vinegar, this composition proved to be a taste sensation. The dry Italian white wine, with its citrus and nut flavours, showcased the dish beautifully. (Wine: Verdicchio Dei Castelli de Jesi superiore, San Lorenzo, 2010)
Scottish lumpfish roe was another course served raw. With the distinctive poppy mouth feel of caviar, it worked well with thickened buttermilk which added creaminess, the stronger taste of red onion, the gentle aniseed flavour of dill and the crunch of chicken skin crumble. Here was another harmonious if ususual combination of tastes and textures. The Chenin Blanc, with its bouquet of lush stone fruits, a hint of sweetness and tight mineral finish worked well with dish. (Wine: Montlouis Minerale+ Franz Saumon 2010)
The next seafood course of smoked native Dorset lobster was perfectly timed to retain the delicate succulence of the flesh. The smoke was so gentle that the sweet pure taste of the tail and claw meat shone through. Enveloped in raw wild and cultivated vegetables such as raddish, cauliflower and mustard leaf, this sublime dish simultaneously combined the luxury of the sea with the simplicity of the land. The high acidity and range of citric flavours in the Riesling wine proved to be another good match. (Wine: Riesling Kabinett, Forster Ungeheuer, Dr Von Bassermann-Jordan, German, 2009)
In a season where heavy rainfall has almost devastated the asparagus crop in some regions, we were lucky to have asparagus from the Wye Valley and Kent on the menu. It came in three ways: raw –in slithers – poached and pan fried, all of which captured its distinctive, strong earthy flavour. Wild garlic and truffle added a heady perfume to the dish, whilst salted, soft poached pheasant egg provided a rich sauce. This robust dish needed a richer wine, which the accompanying Sancerre, with its balance of fruit and minerality, provided. (Wine: Sancerre cuvee Maxime Vieilles Vignes, Domainde Delaporte, 2010)
The single meat course showcased Herdwick lamb, sweeter and more fully flavoured than most breeds. The meltingly tender rump had been cooked sous vide in contrast to the sweetbreads which had been pan fried to produce a caramelised crust and a rich, creamy interior. Sea lettuce, sea kale and coastal herbs provided a flourish of nutritious greenery, whilst the whole dish was bought together by a light sauce of burnt cucumber and rape seed oil sauce. The aromatic, soft dry red wine was a splendid accompaniment. (Wine: Barolo, DOCG, Vigneti in Barolo, 2007)
There followed two desserts, perhaps less exciting and accomplished than the savoury courses, but nevertheless intriguing
“Milk, pearl barley and linseed” comprised a velvety smooth milk ice cream, linseed foam, and “sugar puffs” of pearl barley. The last element had not totally worked, being too nutty to eat. The matching wine was sweet with a fair degree of acidity. (Wine: Granjo late harvest, Portugal, 2007)
Yoghurt ice cream and crisp yoghurt meringue combined sour and sweet tastes in perfect balance. Douglas fir pine ice added a lively, clean kick to this light dessert that finished off the meal perfectly. The sweet wine with tropical fruit aromas had a fresh, dry palate that complemented the dessert well. (Wine; Juracon La Magendia de Lapeyre, Clos Lapeyre, France)
A much needed, generous serving of double espresso and petit fours – which included a fun element of candy floss and exemplary salted caramels – completed this tour de force of a meal
Service was welcoming and solicitous, without being intrusive. With so many multi component dishes, and a variety of cooking techniques, the knowledge of the staff was very impressive indeed. Overseeing the proceedings and selecting the matching wines was a familiar face, recently arrived from Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. His charm, enthusiasm and sense of humour put us at or ease and helped to make the evening a memorable one.
Clearly, North Road has made an indelible mark on the London dining scene, as confirmed by the award of a Michelin star in the 2012 guide. In an area of strong competition, and given its strengths in the kitchen, it will more than hold its own. We will watch its progress with interest.