The internet has done for the food scene what cheap international flights did for travel: it made it accessible. There are no secrets – a new restaurants barely needs to open its doors before an army of breathy bloggers have pawed over it. I’m not saying this is a bad thing – far be it from me to hold back the tide of progress, and anyway, the appetite for new places to eat keeps me in new hats – but it does detract from the sense of wellbeing you get when you find a place like Salt & Honey.
It’s the second venture by Tyler Martin (food) and Joseph Antippa (the other stuff), the first being Fulham Road’s Manuka Kitchen, which is named after a type of New Zealand honey that’s said to have medicinal properties.
The first thing you’re greeted with is a flight of stairs leading into mysterious darkness. You’re not to go down those stairs – they’re not for you, try to put them out of your mind. Instead you should take a left, squeezing past the coat stand, where you’ll find a place that looks a bit like someone’s living room with all the furniture chucked out and replaced with dining tables. I guess that’s just a description of any restaurant, but this looks even more like that, as if the discarded furniture may still be lying in a heap on the side of the pavement waiting for the council to come and collect it. It wasn’t; the artfully distressed furniture outside was strictly for dining purposes. They’d probably be mad if the council tried to take it away.
There isn’t a front desk, so I just wandered in, which gave me the same illicit thrill you get walking around someone’s house when they’re not home. The walls are hung with paintings of spooky forests and gigantic mirrors are scrawled with the specials. There is a mezzanine level with what could charitably be called a private dining space. There’s also, I discovered, a second set of stairs that leads to another forbidden place, and I was making my way down that when I finally made contact with a member of staff.
“Where are you going?”
“Erm, I don’t know, aren’t you supposed to tell me that?”
He showed me to a nice table by the window, and handed me a menu that was simple but intriguing, consisting of things like heirloom carrots with ash goat’s cheese and quinoa, and peach with endive and truffle honey (manuka makes an appearance on almost everything). There’s a very reasonable wine list, which starts at £18 and tops out at £65, although they fluffed it when I asked for a recommendation.
And the food? The food is brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that it makes you reassess everything else. The awkward spaces become charming recesses. The service becomes refreshingly whimsical. Even the paintings take on a new air of endearing kitsch. This is the power of great food: it makes everything else seem okay (I am, though, still curious about the staircases).
Three fat scallops with radish and a thick fold of lardo (£9.50) were spot on, the sweet flesh just warmed up, the fat full of flavour. Cured salmon with lemongrass and manuka honey (£5.80!) was sweet and beguilingly smoky. Wagyu bolognese with pappardelle and pesto (£14.50) was the best bowl of comfort food I’ve eaten in ages – thick, bouncy ribbons of pasta in a rich, oily sauce, tossed with cherry tomatoes and slivers of parmesan.
The Pork belly (£14.50) was a vast slab of meat so tender you could cut through it with a spoon, the crisped outer fat glued on by a seam of molten blubber. This is where pigs go when they die, both literally and metaphorically. It came with carrots in more honey and butter-bean puree.
Chef Martin was doing the rounds as we were polishing off desserts of caramel panna cotta and cold, smooth bricks of honey truffle (both good). I normally go out of my way to avoid talking to chefs, on account of it tending to end badly. I once saw Typing Room’s Lee Westcott in a bar after I’d given him a glowing review. He looked me up and down and said: “I remember you, you’re the critic who didn’t like my scallops”. It’s worse if you hated the meal: you have to either single out and praise the least offensive thing you’ve eaten or brazen it out and tell the truth, which is mortifying for everyone. And there’s the time I had a nice chat with Shaun Rankin at his (excellent) Ormer restaurant. I don’t remember a word of it, nor, indeed, anything that happened after the eighth glass of matched wine that went with his tasting menu. Now I can never go back to Jersey.
But I digress. I was more than happy to tell Martin how much I enjoyed Salt & Honey. I cheerfully explained how it was one of those meals that makes everything seem better, as he hovered uncomfortably at the end of the table. The bill came to less than £100, which, frankly, makes me think they’re not charging enough. I really can’t say enough good things about this restaurant: I implore you not to tell anyone else about it as I plan on returning often and would like to be able to get a table.