Few London dining rooms succeed in recreating the sleek design and smooth operation of the best US restaurants. Sitting in Jackson & Rye, though, I’m transported across the Atlantic, to the East Coast. The Martin Brudnizki Design Studio interior looks just right – a miniature ‘Nighthawks’ by Edward Hopper, only much more convivial with its well-placed central bar in an L-shaped room, flatteringly low lighting, the burble of lively conversation, the clink of glasses. The service is attentive and engaging, without being too ‘Have- A-Nice-Day’. Even the menu is a pretty good translation of the metropolitan East Coast dining scene.
The kitchen kicks off the day with a diner-style breakfast menu that includes creamed grits (a maize porridge originally from the Southern states) topped with flaked almonds, berries and maple syrup, and enough brunch-style egg dishes to keep a Boston cabbie’s blood pressure up; my baked eggs with ham and spinach were slightly overcooked, a common problem when using a cast-iron cocotte dish.
At 11.30am on weekdays the breakfast menu segues into the lunch and dinner menu (a separate brunch menu is served at weekends until 4.30pm). A Reuben sandwich was faithful to the original versions, the caraway-studded rye bread perfectly grilled, the swiss cheese melting over the hot salt beef and sauerkraut. An open sandwich of Southern-style buttermilk-fried chicken was properly tangy, the batter impregnated with hot spices, chipotle mayo and avocado completing the topping on a toasted brioche bun.
Not all dishes are so faithful to their roots. True chowder is a modestly priced bowl of soup, in one of three main styles (Manhattan, New England and Rhode Island), but our ‘chowder’ here had been deconstructed – a fillet of cod on a base of leeks, smoked bacon and clams; perhaps too liberal an interpretation. A dish improved by crossing the pond was peanut butter cookies, turned into mid-Atlantic jammie dodgers by the addition of blobs of raspberry jam in the centre, further remade into a restaurant dessert by the addition of plain ice-cream and a tiny jug of hot chocolate sauce on the side.
In one week I visited for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and evening was the best time to drop in, when the low lighting and lively bar scene is at its most atmospheric, and the best waiting staff were pressed into service (service in the daylight hours was hit-or-miss). We raised our glasses to this homage to the upscale American brasserie, here in the heart of London’s Soho.
Reviewed by Guy Dimond