A Mediterranean restaurant from an ex-Rotorino head chef.
Mesdames et messieurs! Je vous présente… Alex Jackson. A 31-year-old chef trained by the brilliant Stevie Parle (Dock Kitchen, Rotorino, Craft). Sardine, a small, clean-lined restaurant within a Hoxton gallery space, is his debut. In it, he’s cooking rustic food, mostly from Provence. Is he even French? Mais non. Does it matter? Pas du tout. Jackson loves southern French food – he spent his ‘year out’ there – and has natural talent. (Turns out he ‘fell into cooking’ by accident, having originally joined Dock Kitchen at the front of house, as the friend of a friend).
At the back of the open kitchen hangs the signature dish: lamb ‘à la ficelle’. ‘Ficelle’ means ‘string’: this is literally ‘string-turned’ lamb. A fat leg dangles above a wood fire and cooks slowly, on all sides. Once roasted, it’s raised and kept warm over the oak embers, with slices carved off ‘on demand’. I know what you’re thinking: medieval kebab. Only without the mystery meat. And no wrinkly pickled chilli. Just a heap of creamy white beans and blobs of salsa verde. This is peasant food at its best: uncomplicated, full-flavoured and joyous.
Starters were equally memorable. A bowl of soupy clams came studded with shards of dry cured sausage, fat garden peas and alternate hits of garlic and thyme. Roast quail, its charred, spindly legs waving in the air, came smothered in a gloriously gutsy olive and anchovy sauce. Even the sides – a satisfying ratatouille, every slow-cooked vegetable melting into the next, or the ‘domino’ potatoes, a moreish stack of baked tattie slices with crunchy edges and soft middles – spoke of sunshine and simple pleasures.
But every summer has to end and this one did too. A crêpe was accompanied by watery, flavourless cherries, while a not-as-interesting-as-it-sounded apricot kernel ice cream was another washout.
Still, there’s plenty to love about this little fish. High ceilings and white walls with a specially commissioned mural give it the air of an intimate art space, rather than the gallery’s former office.
The team is young and enthusiastic, your fellow diners vibrant Silicone Roundabout types (smart, creative, solvent). There’s Viognier on tap: how cool is that? For the first restaurant of a man who only a few years back didn’t even realise he could cook – c’est pas mal. Bravo, Monsieur Jackson, bravo.
15 Micawber Street
|Transport:||Tube: Old St|
|Price:||Dinner for two with drinks and service: around £105.|
|Do you own this business?|