Neighbourhood Dining with French Finesse:
Venturing North to Islington isn’t something I do regularly. There are plenty of very good restaurants in West London and even more in the city centre. But, I love French food and I’d heard some excellent things about Assiette Anglaise so I was delighted to get an invitation to review the restaurant. The new(ish) head chef, Matthew Tarantini has an intriguing background from Elliots Cafe, Hibiscus and Odettes while owners, husband and wife team Ludovic and Mairead are a French/English couple. And indeed the name of this particular restaurant is a tongue in cheek reminder of the heritage of the place, in France an Assiette Anglaise is a plate of cold meats and pickles.
Inside, the sparkling white tables are softened by clever lighting, trompe l’oeil painted walls and a large central bar with stools so that passers by can enjoy a drink or two. Of course, sitting down looking at a bar does rather demand trying an aperitif, in my case a winter pear daiquiri while my companion, unusually, asked for a glass of fizz. The Tapanade which arrived to accompany our drinks was very welcome, giving us a chance to chat to Ludo and look around a bit.
The menu is quite brief with a selection of charcuterie and terrines to supplement the starters and eight main courses. We asked for Ludo’s recommendation and for the most part picked the dishes he suggested. I wanted to try the bouillabaisse though because we’d been quizzing him on where in France he came from (Marseilles). He warned us that it wasn’t ‘authentic’ but for my part I prefer a chef to use local and seasonal ingredients that nod to the original dish rather than create something overpriced by shipping in the necessary components for the authentic version.
I started with the warm beef, celeriac and fennel salad. This was a fine combination of cubes of a salty beef terrine and some rare strips of warm beef topping a wintery salad that was quite robust enough to work as an excellent complement. I’d happily have eaten a main course of this for lunch – a good test of how well a starter works I think.
My companion Simon’s warm lamb terrine with barley salad was a lovely seasonal dish of meltingly tender lamb topped with morsels of pearl barley.
On to the bouillabaisse – a really pretty dish, I asked what fish was used and was told ‘cod, grey mullet and prawns’, a reflection I suspect on availability and seasonality. The result was a delicious but rather lighter than expected dish which arrived complete with a crab rouille topped slice of baguette.
Simon had a healthy sized portion of pork chop with puy lentils, cauliflower and turnips. All very simple and all very perfectly cooked, he remarked on the quality and flavour of the meat.
On to desserts – I picked the tarte tatin with creme anglaise which was immaculate, delicious with golden crispy pastry and soft caramel coated apples.
I didn’t hear too much about Simon’s dessert, some kind of chocolate fondant I think – that’s always a good sign.
Throughout the meal the wines were matched for us by Ludo. I particularly liked the Chablis paired for me with the Bouillabaisse, Domaine Colette Gros, Bourgogne 2011. While I’m no expert, the wine list, which includes a nice sprinkling of organic and biodynamic French wines is well balanced, with most wines available by the carafe or bottle and a good selection of wines by the glass.
If I was in the area, shopping or visiting friends, I’d definitely pop in for dinner. I’d like an Assiette Anglaise on the corner of my street. Mains are mostly around £15 and starters between £5 and £10. The wine list is brief but charmingly French and most wines are available by the glass or carafe as well as by the bottle. I’d advise getting Ludo to match the wines for you if he’s around, he provided some excellent advice as well as being a charming host. It’s a warm and friendly experience that as Simon commented, seems genuinely French.
489 Liverpool Road