On Upper Street, mostly a strip of uninspiring chains and unashamed party pubs, John Salt stands out. It was opened with chef Neil Rankin, one of the architects of London’s US diner food takeover. He’s no longer there, but the menu still makes full use of the smoker, the fryer and the grill: there’s barbecued sardines with harissa; smoked short-rib cheeseburger; ‘chicken fried’ whitebait; coal-baked onions with yogurt. Even some of the ingredients have the whiff of fossil fuel about them: charcoal butter appears with potatoes and sorrel.
It’s all served on small plates, of course, which doesn’t always work – timings were off on our visit, and the table wasn’t big enough to comfortably accommodate the five dishes we ordered. The cooking is competent, if not exciting, and the drinks list thoughtful; a few craft beers feature, and cocktails are grown-up and fortifying. What stops John Salt scoring higher is the fact that the ground-floor bar gets massively busy – this is Upper Street, as discussed – leaving the upstairs restaurant to contend with the distant sounds of repetitive beats and an ever-increasing hubbub. Good to kick off a night out in Islington, perhaps, but not committed enough to warrant a special visit.