RESTAURANT NORTH ROAD
69-73 St John St, EC1M 4AN Tel: 020 3217 0033
Cost per person without wine: £75
Scandinavia is having quite a moment. We watch its TV shows, we wear its jumpers, we buy its furniture (while hoping people won’t notice it came flat-packed in a cardboard box) and, at least since Noma won the World’s Best Restaurant award, we eat its food.
There is something reassuringly “real” about our imagined version of Scandinavia – a kind of amalgamation of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which ignores the millennia of grand, individual history of each and replaces them with a Disneyfied fairytale-land of glacial streams, wild elk and ruddy-cheeked dames wearing heavy-knit jumpers.
North Road, located somewhat counter-intuitively on St John St, doesn’t disappoint. Everything in sight is painstakingly “authentic” – the bread arrives in cloth sacks; you can see every imperfection in the earth-tone crockery, which was presumably crafted by simple mountain-folk, and the low-hanging fishbowl light fittings cast an appropriately dim, lazy glow.
The food is clean, crisp and impossibly – sometimes infuriatingly – healthy: smoked, pickled, rolled in burnt hay or, more often than not, just served raw. It tastes like it was foraged from the icy tundra by a buxom fisherman’s daughter. Even the posh pork scratchings were deceptively light – part of me wanted to run home afterwards and smear myself in lard and chocolate.
At its best, the food is superlative. The asparagus – poached, fried and, of course, raw – with pheasant’s egg, was a highlight: just the right combination of crisp and earthy. Other dishes were harder to love – the lumpfish roe with onion sauce and chicken skin was rather insipid, no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise.
If there is ever a toss-up between “interesting” and “convenient”, Danish chef Christoffer Hruskova will opt for the former. Quail eggs arrive in a ceramic pot atop a mound of hay. I didn’t have any cutlery – do I use my fingers? Can you eat the hay? (yes and definitely not, I discovered).
But, for the best part of £300 for two people (including the cheese and wine tasting menus – we didn’t exactly hold back), it’s what I expect – something I’ll still be talking about in a few months’ time. For that kind of money I want an experience: a glorious failure (which North Road isn’t) is preferable to something dispassionately tasty, which you can get for a third of the price.
To finish, we were served what looked like a bonsai tree, its foliage a wisp of powder-pink candyfloss, dotted with tiny leaves. By this stage, we didn’t worry about eating with our hands (it would take a particularly self-loathing member of the middle classes to eat candyfloss with a knife and fork). There was, however, a discussion between my mother and I over whether you should attempt to eat the soil. It certainly looked like real earth and it had a stick poking out of it, which I tend to use as a rule of thumb for not putting something in my mouth. I swallowed a fingerful anyway. North Road is that kind of place – give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised. It turns out you can eat the soil.