Omne trium perfectum.
Hands up – who can tell me what this Latin phrase means? I will give you a couple of clues: hung drawn and quartered; the three little pigs; or the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Any idea? If you are thinking it must have something to do with the number three, you would be mostly correct: it means “every set of three is complete” and conveys the idea that sets of three are perfect in a way that fours and fives could never be. It is a device often used in oratory – think of Julius Caesar saying “I came, I saw, I conquered”; or the famous French Revolution rallying cry of liberté, egalité, fraternité. We’ve probably also all heard a relative remark sagely when something happens that “good/bad things happen in threes” – all of which can be traced back to our culture’s obsession with the number 3 and its mystical powers. I realised last weekend that my in a city as massive as London, my home-away-from-home High Timber is directly opposite the river from my favourite place to take visitors to London: the Swan at the Globe. And then, as if to prove to me that good things do indeed come in threes, the universe conspired to send me to try the new tasting menu at Northbank, a restaurant not 50 yards from High Timber and only slightly diagonally across the river from The Swan. Spooky, no?
Northbank occupies a surprisingly large space just metres from the foot of the Millennium Bridge, comprising a raised terrace, a large bar and a restaurant area with tables by the floor-to-ceiling windows, and more intimate booths set along the wall furthest from the windows. The views from the terrace are quite something and encompass some of London’s most iconic landmarks including Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, The Shard and the “wobbly” Millennium Bridge which connects St Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern. The restaurant was opened in 2007 by Christian Butler (who still owns it), a restaurant-manager-turned-restauranteur who hails from Cornwall and who is presumably the driving force behind their Modern British menu with a Cornish influence. The intention is for the menu to showcase exceptional ingredients sourced from Christian’s hometown of Falmouth and surrounding areas of Cornwall – fresh fish caught by day boats off the Cornish coast is delivered daily. Head Chef Jason Marchant is also keen to promote small independent British suppliers in his menus, so I was looking forward to an evening of English culinary pleasures. But first, we started off in the bar with an excellent and rather un-English Negroni!
Image © and courtesy of Northbank Restaurant
Image © and courtesy of Northbank Restaurant
Once we were comfortably seated at our table by the window, overlooking the Tate Modern, we were presented with an amuse bouche: a roasted carrot and onion soup with a garnish of olive oil – quite possibly one of the nicest soups I have ever had. As always with an amuse bouche, the flavours were intense – far more so than you could get away with in a full serving of soup – buttery, intensely carroty, and wonderful. To drink, we asked the sommelier to recommend a white and a red by the glass to match the appropriate courses, and he kicked off proceedings with a bottle of Laibach 2014 Chenin Blanc from South Africa – an aromatic wine packed full of tropical fruit aromas that was easily able to match the rich flavours of the soup. This was followed by a pasta course consisting of truffle chicken tortellini with spinach puree and truffle cream – what a beautifully judged dish! Nick is not a massive fan of truffles and was all ready to hand over his truffle cream to me, but after one mouthful he reneged on our deal and ate it all himself – the very cheek of it! The tortelllini were firm, not floppy, and the chicken filling was flavoursome, but the real action was happening around the tortellini. The truffle cream was rich yet subtle, infused with truffles rather than the overpowering aroma of cheap truffle oil; and its richness was well balanced by the fresh green spinach puree. A surprisingly light and lovely dish.
For the next course we moved on to seafood in the form of seared West Country scallops with burnt leek, celeriac purée, sea purslane, nori salt crumbs and capers. This is the second time in about a month that I have come across burnt leek on a menu and I have to say I am rather fond of it – a bit of char gives this sweet alium an interesting smoky flavour profile. In this dish, the burnt leeks provided the bass notes; the sweet, perfectly seared scallops and the celeriac puree filled in the rounded, creamy middle notes; while the addictively good, salty crunchy nori salt and caper crumble provided a spiky, salty treble melody. Definitely a hit. This was followed not, as I would have expected, by the other seafood dish, but rather by a little cocotte containing Chef Jason’s take on an English classic: rabbit mulligatawny. Mulligatawny comes from two Tamil words meaning “pepper water” and originated as a spicy sauce served with rice. Once the recipe had been transplanted to England, it became a curried soup – but Northbank’s version is more of a light stew of rabbit and vegetables in a rich curry sauce. It had a fantastic depth of flavour and a nicely judged level of spice – all three of us loved it (and I would have asked for seconds if I did not know there were more courses to get through!).
After the rabbit mulligatawny, we returned once more to the ocean for the Cornish catch of the day: halibut with smoked kale, mashed potato, red wine jus and nasturtium leaves. This was without a doubt my favourite dish of the night. I love halibut and this piece was skinned and pan-fried to golden perfection. Anybody that thinks red wine does not go with fish will eat their words when they try this dish – the sticky reduction complemented the sweet flesh of the fish without overpowering, and the kale added an intriguing note of smoke. Simple but perfectly formed. From there we moved on to the final savoury course, namely the roast rump of Cornish lamb, potato terrine, shallot puree & salt-baked beetroot. One look at this dish will give you an idea of how good the meat was – tender, pink, succulent and packed with flavour. The potato terrine was a symphony of buttery layers of wafer-thin potato fried into golden goodness; and I loved how the sweetness of the shallot puree and the earthiness of the beetroot slice offset the herby lamb meat. To accompany this, we had a glass of Saurus 2013 Pinot Noir, a surprisingly full-bodied example of this cultivar from Patagonia in Argentina.
Dessert was the only part of the menu where you were faced with a choice – the one option was a chocolate plate containing dark chocolate mousse, ice-cream and various other bits; and my choice which was the lemon meringue plate. I am a bit of a sucker for a deconstructed dessert and this was a particularly good one: a generous portion of creamy lemon mousse, a perfectly caramelised Italian meringue, Limoncello sorbet, crumble and a fresh raspberry. It was perfect – rich without being too sweet and packed with a range of textures and flavours. And although none of us needed any food after that, it seemed churlish to turn down the offer of a cheeseboard to share. The board consisted of Cornish Yarg, Golden Cross Goat’s Cheese, Devon Blue and Stinking Bishop (my favourite) together with grapes, apple, crackers and some excellent raisin bread. A little glass of La Fleur D’Or Sauternes washed this cheesy indulgence down very nicely indeed.
I thought that at £55 (plus £5 supplement for the cheeseboard) the menu represented very good value for money. So often in London you go out and have a perfectly well-executed meal but a week later you can barely recall what you ate. But there were a couple of standouts in this meal, like the mulligatawny and the outstanding halibut dish – and that to me is the mark of excellence. Nick also liked the fact that none of the food was “too cheffy” – tasty and inventive, yes; but never chi chi or pretentious. Chef Jason told me that the tasting menu will change monthly, so if you are a regular customer there is no chance of getting bored with it. I, for one, can’t wait for the weather to warm up a little and then I intend to be a regular fixture on the Northbank terrace, sampling each month’s tasting menu in turn.
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of Northbank Restaurant but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
Northbank Restaurant & Bar
One Paul’s Walk,
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7329 9299
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