Review: Assiette Anglaise 489 Liverpool Road, London N7
Who could have known the world needed a laid-back French bistro that plays reggae music?
Amol Rajan was appointed editor of The Independent in June 2013. He was previously Editor of Independent Voices, a comment, campaigns and community platform across print and digital. He was earlier Deputy Comment Editor, Sports News Correspondent and a news reporter. He writes a restaurant column for the Independent on Sunday, and has a column in the Evening Standard (Mondays), Independent and i (Fridays). He used to work on Channel 5's The Wright Stuff, and at the Foreign Office; he is also a trustee of Prospex, a charity for young people in Islington. He has written a book called Twirlymen: the Unlikely History of Cricket's Greatest Spin Bowlers.
Sunday 24 March 2013
Makeovers. Don't you just love them? Once upon a time on this strip of north London there was a restaurant called Morgan M that served artisanal and slightly forbidding French food. That's forbidding in the sense of, "blimey, what's this hard-to-pronounce, complicated-to-eat thing in front of me, I wonder"; and also forbidding in the sense of not much bang for your buck. That place moved a couple of miles south. I reviewed it this time last year: 7/10, touch of class, could do better, room for improvement, that sort of thing. What has replaced it, while still French, is a kind of culinary antithesis.
Assiette Anglaise is the opposite of forbidding: open, accessible, affordable, delightful, uncomplicated. In short, a joy. It looks smart enough, too, boasting a vast cloudy-blue bar through the middle of it and a slab of marble on top, with shimmering light refracted through hanging glasses. There are tall black bar stools, squat black chairs with a matted finish, plain white square tables and wood-panelled flooring: all told, a simple and stylish brasserie whose incongruous name, meaning "English plate", doesn't detract from what feels like a pretty French experience.
Except for the music, that is. The chef, Elton Inglis, has the kind of name that belongs in a pantheon of reggae greats. And, doubtless having come to the same conclusion many years ago, the music that burrs out of the speakers in his restaurant is pure Jamaican gold. Now, I've long fervently believed that there is no situation that can't be improved by the addition of a reggae beat, but be warned: the sound of the Seine in the summer this is not, so if you come here expecting to feel like you're on the set of Amélie, you'll quickly be disappointed.
Inglis came here not from Kingston in the 1970s but nearby restaurants with a more recent pedigree: Petrus, Racine, and Murano. His menu is a proper all- day number, with breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the main dinner menu are such classic starters as French onion soup (£8), steak tartare (£8), boudin noir (blood sausage) with sage and apple (£7), all of them excellent; and a lovely vegetarian option with baby carrots, pickled vegetables and a crème fraîche and chive dip (£7.50).
Vegetarians are, in fact, very well catered for, with pumpkin soup and truffle oil (£5.50), pan-fried panisse with aubergine, chickpeas and dates (£13), and a mushroom, onion and gruyère pithivier with fashionable mushroom ketchup (£12). There's also all the usuals – including coq au vin (£16.50) and cod en papillote with clams, fennel and olives (£16) – for carnivores.
But the stuff to come here for, and, indeed, to stay all day for, is on the weekend brunch menu. I could get used to long and lazy days here, armed only with a wad of newspapers and an empty belly. Some days I reckon I'd go healthy. The granola, Greek yoghurt and seasonal fruit salad (£7.50) is fresh and flawless. The roasted spice squash with piquillo peppers, pumpkin seeds, rocket and goat's cheese salad (£7.90) is terrific – yet not quite as good as the salad Lyonnaise at the same price, with crackly lettuce, sweet bacon, crunchy croutons and a cutting vinaigrette.
Other days I reckon I'd gorge on grease. One of the real delights is the Toulouse sausage-and-butter-bean stew with poached egg (£9). I went to a place less than a mile from here not so long ago – I won't say where, in case it embarrasses them in Caravan at King's Cross – and their version of this dish was a disgrace. It tasted like tinned tomatoes with a few bits of garlic thrown in: cold and incoherent. This, in contrast, is exquisite, hot, intense and actually cooked together for ages, as stews are generally meant to be.
There are cheeses which, at £8, there ought to be more of, and desserts at £6 including a lovely bitter-sweet chocolate mousse with candied orange zest.
This being a French restaurant, the wine is very good and affordable. Which rather sums up the place, and ought to persuade punters that the French do fun, easy cooking as well as the tough stuff. For that reason alone, and despite the reggae, this slice of Gallic joy deserves to become a famous London institution.
Assiette Anglaise 489 Liverpool Road, London N7, tel: 020 7609 0300 Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Tues-Sat; breakfast and lunch, Sun. Breakfast about £85 for four, including soft drinks
SCORES 1-3 STAY AT HOME AND COOK 4 NEEDS HELP 5 DOES THE JOB 6 FLASHES OF PROMISE 7 GOOD 8 CAN'T WAIT TO GO BACK 9-10 AS GOOD AS IT GETS
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