THE ANGEL in Islington is a neighbourhood teeming with eateries and the appeal of another new restaurant there is diminished by the frequency of their appearance. Now they are beginning to colonize Essex Road but if you head down to the quiet end of the street you’ll discover a culinary outpost in glorious isolation from the feeding hullabaloo at the Angel.  Salut! occupies what used to be a corner pub so it benefits from big windows, now fitted with plain glass that look out on a line of elegant Himalayan birch trees planted along the street pavement.

SaalutSaalut!, The Angel, London

Bare wooden tables await inside but the darkly-lit space feels homely, not at all spartan, and although the menu consists of only around half a dozen starters and similar number of main dishes you can look forward to carefully prepared food.

 

SaalutThe Saalut London

Scallops, served with squid and coloured by their ink, are cooked with coriander, broad beans and radish; steak is UK-sourced and tastes delicate with a truffle pomme purée; the bespoke crockery comes from Brazil but with a Japanese aesthetic. You won’t find many boutique food experiences like this at the Angel.

Ormer MayfairThe Ormer Mayfair, London

Set in the basement of the 19th-century Flemings Hotel, the Ormer Mayfair restaurant has been given a serious makeover and upon entering you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into a TV episode of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot: oak panelled walls, art deco table lamps, lots of brass fittings and two sexily colourful paintings for the suppressed passions that detective Poirot brings to the surface. Service is super attentive, with little stools being provided for ladies’ handbags and a sommelier who could write a book about different wines. Best of all, there is lots of space between tables – no shuffling about when your neighbours want to leave to powder their noses.
Ormer Mayfair’s  seasonally-changing menu is a delight – the chef, Michelin-starred Shaun Rankin, uses produce from his home in Jersey –and in its most recent incarnation there’s venison with quinoa, chocolate tortellini, parsnips and dates, roast grouse highlighted with blackberries and purple cabbage. The menu’s jouissance lies in its canny combination of tastes, temperatures and textures: with the tuna starter, for instance, the frozen bloody Mary and sweet avocado offset the natural oiliness of the fish. All very clever and sophisticated, a gourmet experience.

Casa AnditaCasita Andina, Soho, London

If  you’re not in the mood for Ormer Mayfair, gallivant to Great Windmill Street to the raucous, spicy food fest of Casita Andina, a Peruvian picanteria. Casita Andina is in Soho so expect lots of punters and a dodgem ride to the restrooms, shuffling past chairs, dodging waiters, sliding into available spaces. Grab a seat at the downstairs bar to enjoy Peru’s national cocktail, pisco sour, made with Quebranta pisca, lime juice and chuncho bitters. Pisco has an amber colour but egg white in this cocktail gives the whole glass a frothy snow white appearance.

Casa AnditaThe interior at Casita Andina, Soho

A simple but artful Peruvian Andes theme accounts for the decor and suits the sense of fun and sociability that characterises Casita Andina. One of those new words coined by Roald Dahl that has now been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, scrumdiddlyumptious, comes to mind but bear in mind the zesty spiciness of the food. Chupeseco, king prawns resting in cream with potato chilli and a quail egg, is hotter than expected and so too are some of the eight different ceviches. Wine is best chosen by the glass given the piquant tastes and if the heat gets too much there is a lovely little roof garden where you can chill out or even eat your food.

SamarklandSamarkland, London

Samarkland undoubtedly possesses novelty value, being the only London restaurant currently and consciously identifying itself with Uzbek cuisine, and you’ll find it hidden behind Tottenham Court Road (the actual entrance is in Rathbone St). The basement setting is dominated by an evocative map showing the Silk Road, the major trade route that once linked China with the Mediterranean, and a swishy bar area where there are more types of vodka available than it would be advisable to sample in the course of even a very long evening.

The menu is not as mysterious as you might hope for and the best bet for two sharing is plov, Uzbekistan’s national dish that mixes meat with rice and grated vegetables, or one of the shashlik grills. The staff are gracious   and one named Natasha, I thought, probably might have an Uzbek connection and a polite inquiry revealed she hailed from a famous crossroads – not, alas, one on the Silk Road but London’s Clapham Junction.

by Sean Sheehan

Front cover image: a dish served at Casita Andina, Soho