Lola's - It's food to make a Michelin judge swoon, so what's it doing in London's laid-back Islington?

Lo-la, la-la-la-la, et cetera. So it's a cheap link, but I find it hard to get the Kink's hit song out of my head as I walk up the stairs above the antiques market in the very beating heart of Islington.

Lo-la, la-la-la-la, et cetera. So it's a cheap link, but I find it hard to get the Kink's hit song out of my head as I walk up the stairs above the antiques market in the very beating heart of Islington.

Ray Davies may not have been singing about Lola's the restaurant, but he was certainly singing about appearances being somewhat different to reality. I'm there, Ray. I'm looking at a plate of food on the table next to me – perfect timbale, tiny leaves, the scent of truffle oil in the air – and thinking, what's a nice plate like that doing in a joint like this?

Not that Lola's is a diner or a caff. It's a perfectly nice, gussied-up Islington restaurant, with tablecloths and everything. It's just that it looks a bit 1970s vegetarian loft living, with its kaleidoscopic artwork, macramé-effect light shades, mosaic-glass candle holders and tables of pink-cheeked antique dealers à deux.

Housed in what was once a tram shed, it feels like the sort of place that should be serving Caesar salad, Roquefort and red onion pizza and patatas bravas – which is exactly what it was serving up until a short time ago. But that was before chef Hywel Jones came on board, and swung the food in a totally new direction.

Jones was previously chef of the very glamorous Foliage restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, where his fine-tuned cooking was rewarded with a precious Michelin star earlier this year. It's a big change for Jones, but an even bigger change for the area, accustomed as it is to chain-gang pizza, pasta and burger dining and group drinking.

First courses are almost decadently small and pretty. A millefeuille of globe artichoke and asparagus is a decadent artifice; a small but handsome, three-storey affair of perfectly round, thin discs of arty bottom interspersed with fingers of asparagus in a truffly cream, on a loose, tangy, herby sauce gribiche. A Lilliputian thatch of young green leaves is so well-dressed and seasoned, I'm left crying for more.

Snails and ceps may sound dark and earthy, but they are linked in a gently flavoured ragout with a dog-bone slash of turnip purée, then taken to the seaside with a giant, wobbly, jelly-like seared scallop. Hooley-dooley. It's a mad, mod surf'n'turf, high on craft and detail, finished with a scattering of tomato dice, sultanas and crisp fried parsley leaves. More than anything, it shows good (and expensive) produce, the ability to take each ingredient to its personal best, and a devilish talent to combine and contrast taste and texture.

So far, so divine, although I keep looking up from the plate thinking I'm in some dazzling, sleek high-society joint, and getting a bit of a fright when I realise I'm still in Islington. My fellow diners are a casual lot in open-neck shirts and pastel colours – which is not to say they haven't dressed up for the occasion – forking into each other's plates with easy familiarity.

Wine is taken earnestly here, with an interesting and far-flung list, "flights" (miniature tastings) of five 50ml glasses, and plenty available by the glass. If you like anything enough, you can order it to take home from Lola's wine shop. Instead, I have Alsatian Pinot Blanc (£4.75/£19) to drink here.

Main courses are not large, but each dish is composed as a whole, complete in itself. Poached (how nice, for a change) "Label Anglais" chicken (£14.50) is entirely blonde, the two lobes of pale but interesting breast cloaked in a gorgeously creamy sauce based on chicken stock and reinforced with gewurztraminer. Baby, baby leeks, a scattering of morels, and bow ties of herb gnocchi add interest, but best on the ground are soft, surprisingly interesting leaves of cos lettuce.

Roasted turbot (£16.50) is also a treat, the golden fillet cooked with a light hand and paired with a toss of tomato, aubergine, basil and a bright-green wand of baby fennel. Well, something had to give – the bracelet of ratte spuds is borderline undercooked. It's a small thing, but raises questions about how well the kitchen can sustain the high level of complexity.

Then it's back to the text book, with a party-hat presentation of smooth and sassy mint ice-cream sandwiched between delicate clouds of almond macaroon, plus berry sorbet, plus berries. It's all very cute and fresh and not in the slightest bit vulgar. There is a cheese basket in evidence, although this particular cheese-orderer is not consulted. The pre-ordained selection of five little portions is anonymous and unexciting. My waiter, Mr Brusque, bluffs his way through when asked to name them, getting three out of five wrong and banking nothing for the team.

In fact, the service, by and large, is efficient but mildly annoying, being either experienced and on remote control, or young and nervous. For some unknown reason, they all insist on screwing the top back on bottles of mineral water. Don't do that, if you don't mind.

For my money, the food has Michelin in its sights, but the dining experience needs upgrading before you'll be seeing any stars down Islington way. Either that, or the cooking will have to be compromised to fit into local budgets and expectations. I'd say go now, before the prices go up or the food goes down. *

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