209-211 Mantle Rd, Brockley, London SE4 2EW www.noak-se4.co.uk
There isn’t much that signals an area is on the up more than plantation shutters. The net curtains of the middle class, they hide the sight of Guardian reading from envious eyes while letting everyone know that you are part of the acceptable set in the road.
And quite a few of the houses are shuttered in this style in the side streets around Noak SE4 although the area is clearly not out of the woods yet; the presence of metal grills over some badly-painted front doors suggest rougher times are not that far in the past.
The small parade of shops near Brockley Station where Noak SE4 is located in has a bookies, quite a rare sight now, and next to it is a fancy minimalist craft beer shop. A juxtaposition that is almost too perfect. Next door to both is the restaurant. It’s a pretty place, light and modern with an open kitchen and a big, but unlit, wood- fired pizza oven in the corner. Noak SE4 also functions as an all day eatery/cafe for local laptop users and by all accounts is very popular.
The menu is short, which is reassuring. Any small local restaurant that has a massive menu is almost certain to be relying on freezer and microwave, so you don’t want to order the fish on any day, let alone Monday.
The thing that I really desire for my starter is black pudding with spinach, poached egg and coriander cream, but I know P will have her eyes on that. Mussels? Well I can do those at home. Beetroot soup is tempting, as it’s truly retreat from Moscow cold outside, but out of interest I go for a mushroom consommÃƒÂ© with a marinated egg yolk.
An amuse of ox cheek served first is tasty but as usual gets caught in my teeth, a victim of 60’s NHS dentists I am not good with anything fibrous.
The soup arrives and the egg yolk appears as a mysterious red object in the bottom of a bowl strewn with Japanese mushrooms. Over this is poured, at table, the consommÃƒÂ©. A serving flourish not often seen south of the river.
It’s a good consommÃƒÂ©, it needs to be a bit more flavoured and could be clearer, but it is delicate and subtle and so the Japanese mushrooms suits it. The marinated egg yolk, the red object, is interesting. Thick and almost chewy it has no particular stand-out flavour but adds some bulk. P’s dish looks good, she reports it tasted great. It’s always a winning dish if the egg is perfectly cooked, which here it is, and the black pudding is quality, which it is when I try it. I ask chef about this on our way out and he says he made it himself.’I’m Eastern European’, he says with a grin and it’s true, those guys know all about making the very best use of offal.
Chef certainly feels presentation is important, not in a ridiculously overblown way, but interesting. P’s pork dish main has slices of pink pork loin surrounded by leek tubes giving the impression the pork has a guard of coral around it. Amongst these rolls Brussel sprouts and patches of creamed potato along with daikon and turnip. The pork is pink, a good sign as chef clearly knows the correct safe temperature occurs well before the meat is dried out and serves it properly.
Mine is the fish of the day, a large piece of sea bass the waiter says but I think it is stone bass, which is fine as that’s a good fish too. Crispy skinned, full marks chef, and laid on a pile of edamame beans, broccoli and spring onions. The last still have their roots on giving the impression they all need a haircut but it’s a nice touch visually and they are quite edible, which is a bit of a surprise to be honest. Asian flavours float about, notably miso. All very good, although I could do with a bit of rice to go with it.
My dessert looks as if the waiter has had a crash on the way over but it is, in fact, a rather amusing take on a pot of choc. Instead of being something to spoon deeply into, the pot is on its side with the semi-liquid contents spilled across the plate, with a traffic island of clotted cream alongside some grapes thrown through the windscreen on impact. Nice. P has rhubarb and dates and clotted cream with crumbly bits and flowers all strewn around the plate with gay abandon. She thinks it’s lovely; she doesn’t like big heavy desserts and this is just right.
Neighbourhood restaurants don’t always cut the mustard outside of fashionable areas of high income but NOAK has clearly put some proper thought into what they want to achieve and found a chef who can deliver it.