Beef tartare (£9)Tucked away in a part of north London that’s still fairly unknown, Belsize Village is quite distinct from its higher profile sibling Belsize Park, with its sloping parade of mostly chains and wide European-style pavements. The pastel-painted village, on the other hand, boasts independent Jewish, Indian, Asian, Italian restaurants and cafes. Juniper Tree is on the site of Beyoglu, a fairly good Turkish grill that was there for many years. Local Andy Kent bought it to focus on organic British cooking with head Chef, Dave Rann (Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay) at the helm. Its meat is sourced from the Rhug Estate in Wales, and this creamy starter of beef has been hung for 35 days, the orange yolk wobbling like a hat. There’s a real mustard hit too, a pleasingly coarse texture, salty capers and lots of fresh parsley notes. It slips down with sliced homemade sourdough, too.
Brixham crab (£11)The interior at Juniper is neutral. Burnished mirrors, lots of daylight, a cosier back room with downstairs open kitchen and another, sexier dining room. Our other starter is a more intricate dish than the beef, with its various components and that all-important Insta appeal on the plate. Large croutons are smeared with brown crab, there are dabs of avocado puree, cubes of beetroot, flat leaf parsley and the sweet zingy ness of slices of orange. And yet the overall effect is simplicity: crab should always be paired with simple bedfellows – and this achieves that.
Butter pan-roasted cod (£17)Service here is efficient enough, after a mild mix-up with our booking. As we sip on a New Zealand pinot noir, light but fairly potent, a trio of NW3’s grande dames sweep through the doors and take a table, reassuring each other that they’ve heard this place is very, very good. On the evidence of the mains they’re not wrong. We choose the two most interesting options – others include steak, lamb and chicken – and a perfectly opaque fillet of cod, its skin crispy, sits on textures of sweet corn, a vegetable I don’t hate but, well, I would never order it. Which is why I decide to here. There’s quite a bit going on the plate: corn on the cob scattered like lost teeth, slithers of chargrilled sweet corn, its surface serrated like alligator skin, a smooth sweetcorn puree and the balancing earthiness of girolles mushroom, it’s a fun and energetic cod dish. A side of subtle truffle mash is lovely stirred in the puree, too.
Perl las blue double baked soufflé (£14)As a true carnivore, to think I’d choose a vegetarian (let alone vegan) dish over its meaty counterpart five years ago is unbelievable. And yet now vegetarian mains can outstrip their fishy or meaty counterparts: look at all the great cauliflower dishes in the capital for the best evidence. I wouldn’t say that’s the case here, although this light-as-air soufflé, smothered in blue cheese, is matched with the bitter notes of endive and radicchio, cute globes of crunchy, crisp Braeburn apple and luxurious truffle oil. It’s perfect with vivid greens that are bitter in a good way. Oh, and Perl Las? It’s a west Welsh blue cheese – meaning blue pearl – that’s golden in colour, with a creamy, gently salty taste that grows stronger with maturity.
Rhubarb and Custard (£6)We consider desserts: the chocolate fondant is a fine exploding option, with its salted caramel ice cream, but it’s this this other one that wins our hearts. Another very pretty plate, there are whorls of custard, textures of rhubarb – sharp strands, sweet pools – some crumb for a good measure and a blob of meringue, its crust pleasingly burnt.