When I was asked where I’d like to go for my birthday, it was clear the long awaited time had come. “John Salt!” I shouted with excitement. I’ve been wanting, and needing, to go to John Salt ever since former Pitt Cue Co head chef Neil Rankin took up residence. Neil Rankin is a BBQ aficionado, hero if you like, and likes to use his Green Egg BBQ to cook a lot of his food with, and being a massive BBQ fan I just had to try his food.
John Salt has a reservation system and for the likes of me, who live outside of London, this is a God send. We booked a table for 6pm, the earliest sitting, allowing ourselves plenty of time to sample the extensive drink offering. I’m finding it hard to keep my interest, and love, of craft beer under wraps, so another reason why I was so keen to visit John Salt is their craft beer selection. They keep brews from Anchor Brewing, Brooklyn Brewery, Goose Island, Little Creatures, The Kernel, Flying Dog, London Fields, Bear Republic, Thornbridge and many, many more.
I started with a Anchor Steam Beer, which is a American style lager, a little darker in colour than your typical European lager and slightly malty in taste, very smooth and a touch bitter, very tasty indeed. My next beer was the extremely rare, in this country anyway, Hop Rod Rye for America’s Bear Republic Brewery. This bad boy cost me £6 a bottle but there is a good (GREAT!) reason for this. It weighs in at a whopping 8% ABV and tastes absolutely divine. It is an American IPA brewed with rye malt, with flavours of caramel with a little spiciness, really, really tasty, I could have drunk this all night.
With the whistle now whet it was time to order our food, we started with the potted brisket platter. The brisket is smoked for a hell of a long time which makes this usually tough cut of beef really moist and tender, it is then set in beef dripping and accompanied by toasted sourdough and spiced, pickled vegetables, a fantastic appetiser which made us cry out for more food.
Next up was our starters, I ordered oysters in beef fat mayo, and Mrs H ordered grilled squid, shrimp and caramel. The oysters were deep fried and nestled back in their shells on top of a smidge of beer fat mayo, heaven! The batter was nice; light and crispy and then you got the usual texture that you get from shell fish then the nice beefy hit from the mayo came through. A real nice dish. My wife’s squid, cooked with chilli, spring onions and pistashio nuts, was cooked to perfection. The squid was still tender, the chilli offered a kick, followed by the smooth sweetness of the caramel which worked brilliantly with the spring onions, and nuts. By now we were clear that despite some unusual flavour combinations, and the menu causing you to take a few leaps of faith here and there, John Salt were hitting every nail on the head. Hard.
The all important main event came shortly afterwards, and here you have to see past the presentation. For our main course I ordered the skirt steak with kimchi hollandaise and my wife ordered the whole Megrim sole in bone sauce. When they came out both dishes looked like they had just been slapped on the plate; a big difference in presentation from our starters which looked like a bit of care and attention had been put into them. All was forgotten once I tucked into my steak! Now, I have had skirt steak before and it can be tough if not cooked right, but this steak was melt in your mouth stuff, cooked to perfection. Chargrilled on top, nice and rare in the middle and when paired with the kimchi hollandaise, wow, that hollandaise was to die for, creamy texture with the spicy punch of the kimchi, really good cooking. To accompany my steak I had the kimchi pulled pork and cheese fries, which nearly stole the show, kimchi was really crunchy with a nice heat, the cheese all gooey and that pulled pork was so tender and smokey! The fries themselves were crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside, proper comfort food.
Sorry about the duff steak pic.
After a great meal, the waiter brought the desert menu over and we were so stuffed I nearly sent him away without looking at it. Luckily my sixth sense, and stomach, kicked in and the old “ummmm oh I’m so full but I’ll take a look” comment came out, and boy I’m glad I did. Something about the ‘Bacon panna cotta’ intrigued me, and my decision was helped along by the waiter who said it was really tasty and a very popular dish. I was sold! The wife went for the ‘Old fashioned trifle’. The bacon panna cotta was out of this world, I mean what a stroke of genius infusing the panna cotta with maple cured, sweet, crispy bacon and topping it with crushed corn flake. At first it was slight confusion for the palate, to taste bacon in a dessert, but after a couple of mouthfuls it descended into sublime territories. A brilliant desert and which probably wowed me the most out of the three dishes. My wife was also having a moment with her Old fashioned trifle. Despite not being a whiskey fan, after delving through the small mountain of cream, marshmallows, poached rhubarb, not forgetting hundreds and thousands, the whiskey soaked sponge added a final layer of texture, and flavour. The marshmallow brought a whole new element which she’d never had in trifle before, and quite frankly, it blew her socks off.
So our overall John Salt experience was a good one. The cooking was excellent, the bacon panna cotta and the kimchi pulled pork fries really stood out for me, service was amazing, we felt really looked after and the waiter was super friendly, always chatting and making us feel relaxed, the bar itself was getting packed, but the atmosphere was buzzing, and it made us want to stay on after our meal for a couple of drinks, it really made my birthday a pleasurable one.
I would highly recommend John Salt for you to try, the cooking is pushing the boundaries of BBQ and Neil Rankin is really at the top of his game, I will definitely be heading back here as there is plenty more to try as the menu seems to be changing all the time, so get on down here. Be warned though, the music is pumping, which isn’t to some people’s taste, we loved it though!
Thanks for reading.
All photos were taken by Mrs H (Laura Humphrey)