Following the massivo success of their N5 dining room Primeur – you know, the one in a repurposed garage between Canonbury and Stoke Newington – chef David Gingell and manager Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim are hoping to repeat the formula with this new opening.
And yet their second restaurant, in a different part of the postcode, is further proof that you can open in an unusual location if the offer is right. A duck egg’s hurl from Holloway Road, in the unexpected new foodie quarter of Lower Holloway (see our guide next week), Westerns Laundry, named after its previous use, is housed in a striking – if unlikely – 1950s building.
Sheltered behind a discreet Mediterranean-style forecourt, planted with birch and olive trees, and punctuated with handmade benches, the dining room is made even more inviting by the floor-to-ceiling crittall doors, wide open onto the courtyard on our sunny weekend visit. Sounds like bliss, right? Right.
Warning: it’s mostly communal tables, and you’ll undoubtedly sit breath-close to your neighbours. Four of us were shoehorned into a section in the middle of the long bench – not ideal, but the only free spot in a busy Sunday lunch service. There are also counter seats by the open kitchen, where you can observe the flurry of chefs working on the chalked-up menu, which might include Yorkshire-sourced meat, and seafood from Devon and Cornwall.
I can guarantee that the menu will be entirely different by the time you read this, so this is purely a guideline only. But our highlights? Fried cod’s cheeks, silken and bite-size with a whorl of aioli; soft grilled mackerel, its skin obscured by a piquant seaweed vinaigrette; courgettes, mint and goat’s curd, a light and fresh palate cleanser; and butter beans, chard and ricotta, so earthy and creamy my chef friend Clare said, with a sigh: “I don’t actually know how they get so much flavour out of the ingredients”.
Even better? Mussels with garlic and white wine – not perhaps the fish itself (a fair few of the shells being closed or only just open) but the sauce, which proved deeply umami; and yet even this plate paled next to a simple roast chicken, coco beans and watercress, the breast so tender another pal declared it “the best I’ve ever had”.Put simply, the meal continued in this vein for the duration. And yet the last two savoury plates trumped the lot: baked lobster, cooked in an intense, brandy stock, with slinky fideo pasta, was garlanded with a dollop of garlicky yellow saffron aioli.
But the star of the show? Stone bass with a salmorejo, the soupy Andalucian puree made from tomatoes, bread and oil. Its astonishing simplicity and tongue-tingling depth of flavour was everso politely fought over.
A minor note? Desserts weren’t on same level: a rum baba drenched in serious amounts of booze, a posset with peach sorbet and raspberries. But otherwise, the only downside is the sharing tables (and if we’re being picky, some rackety acoustics). We could also add that the natural wine pricing, from £30 a bottle, is fairly prohibitive.
But the accumulative power of these tiny dishes lingers heavy in the memory. And my word: those sauces.