Review: Assiette Anglaise

RESTAURANT
489 Liverpool Road, N7 8NS Tel: 020 7609 0300

FOOD Four Stars
SERVICE Four Stars
ATMOSPHERE Four Stars
Cost per person without wine: £25

A MOST odd part of town!” exclaimed my 93-year-old grandfather when I told him where I’d dined the previous night. If you worked in the City in the 1950s, as he did, you didn’t take associates – or anyone else for that matter – to eat on Liverpool Road. A French brasserie worthy of an honourable clientele, would have been located between the Square Mile and W1. Traipsing down the Holloway Road to get to your snails and terrines was not an option.

Times have changed. Now you can find a very respectable French brasserie on Liverpool Road. Assiette Anglaise is the second project from Ludo Blind, a friendly Gaul who told me he’d rather eat nothing but grass for the rest of his life than open a restaurant in his hometown of Marseille.

Assiette Anglaise is respectable without being starched or formal – no aproned waiters sporting curly mustachios here (the sort of thing my grandfather would expect from a French restaurant). It has a big pearly bar in the middle of a small room, a few simple black tables and chairs, big windows full of flowers. There are non-obsequious staff and a considerately modulated reggae-electronica-hip hop soundtrack that’s more Canal St Martin than Eiffel Tower.

My grandfather might have taken umbrage at the waiter’s low-belted jeans, the music and even the humbleness of the (slightly uncomfortable) chairs. What he wouldn’t have minded at all was the excellent house champagne for £8 a glass (a good £4 less than the average), the organic Roussillon white from somewhere called Roc des Anges, which was full of flowers, local minerals, hay and butter; or the red, a La Chance syrah-grenache that was so light as to almost be pinot, which was served slightly chilled and went perfectly with both fish and pork.

He would also have been d’accord with the bar snacks of saucisson (a deep, unapologetic salami; nice and pungent with a Basque pepper called Piment d’Espelette) and polenta chips, although he would have seen no reason for the latter to be arranged in a criss-cross faux-architectural structure, or to be quite so greasy. The roasted quail breast with confit leg might have annoyed him for its finickiness, and the multitudinousness of the dish, but he’d have succumbed to the succour of the meat, glistening in its juices and bolstered by the semolina gnocchi and pebbly chestnuts that came with it. I’d have told him that when it comes to quail, often a creature served as all bones and no fun, this one was a delight, packed with flavour, although the swipe of beetroot sauce wasn’t my cup of tea and would have bewildered Grandpa, who left the City before beetroot became the mainstay it is today. Meanwhile, my companion’s asparagus with quail egg was just so.

On to mains, where a mutual jealousy was inevitable. My cod with prawn-stuffed courgette flower, which was suffused with marine butter, was pale and cottony, while my guest’s pork was almost cuboid; layer after layer of fibrous belly, served with enormous crackling rounds and green cabbage. I preferred the pork. To accompany them we ordered a dish of salted, butter-soaked beetroot (red and gold) and carrots. One of the cardinal rules of a proper brasserie, after all, is that if you’re going to eat veg, they better be doubled in weight by fat. My companion loved these and insisted they got a mention, though they made me feel a bit sick.

Dessert was the only weak spot. The choice is too jiggly and sickly: mousse; pannacotta, that sort of thing. Where was the tart, the gateaux, the tatin? We went for strawberry cheesecake, which was just ok – a bit bland and wimpy, though with a nice layer of strawberry gel – and a cheese board. The cheese was good but the board needs some work: there were some green apples (grapes would have been better), some fruit salad-esque chutney and more of the same bread we’d had to begin with. Crackers or raisin bread would have been more appropriate. Bread after dinner is just wrong.

We polished dinner off with Calvados in heated glasses, and toddled into the night. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although for my grandfather, I don’t know if all the succulent quail in the world could make up for the fact that the waiter wore jeans.