189 Upper Street, London, N1 1RQ www.vintagesalt.co.uk/upper-street
Vintage Salt Upper Street has just launched a weekly Wednesday supper club with Chef Director Lee Bull, to showcase a selection of his favourite dishes from The Ivy, Le Caprice, Scott’s, Daphne’s and J.Sheekey, all spanning his award-winning 20 year career.
With the menu only actually decided on the Monday before, so that Lee can get the best the market offers, you have to take a little bit of pot luck booking, but when the awaited menu email arrived I could see nothing that I didn’t want to eat and so rocked up with happy expectation.
The venue itself is either a cunning facsimile of a traditional Fish and Chip restaurant or is a genuine untouched relic from the area’s less affluent past (class warrior Charlie Booker was going down the escalator at the tube when I arrived, no doubt having just left his agreeable Georgian mansion). Certainly the banquette seats seem all too authentic, my poor old posterior was numb after thirty minutes, no doubt because making diners’ bums ache was an ancient method of turning tables.
First up, and welcome on a very humid night, was a watermelon Bellini. I’ve never really seen the point of watermelons as they are basically just water with added seeds, but served cold they are rather refreshing and laced with alcohol (and no seeds) they do become a lot more interesting.
Interesting too was one of the two starter choices, Roasted foie gras, apricot Gallete, bitter leafs. Foie gras is as divisive as a Brexit referendum and liable to provoke similar rage on both sides. Many a restaurant has given up risking serving it but personally I’m a fan.
You need old-school chef skills to cook this kind of dish well, you can’t bung it in a sous vide or BBQ it (God forbid). Lee of course has those skills and the foie was perfect and generous in size, with the Gallete doing the traditional job of sweetly partnering the rich foie. The bitter leaves were a bit thin on the ground, I’d have liked more.
Seared salmon, tea smoked salmon Ã¢â‚¬Å“hummusÃ¢â‚¬Â salt cured quail’s yolk looked good, the bit I sampled not overly smoky, the fish firm but not overcooked. Tea smoked salmon’hummus’ could also be called taramasalata perhaps?
Mains of Salt & Pepper crispy chicken, Asian slaw, hoi sin dressing sounded tempting but at the same time rather familiar, it struck me as Asian KFC, so I went for the Roasted cod, razor clam Thermidor, shellfish dressing and was glad I did. It was a very grown up dish.
Lee told us later that the cod had been cured with salt before cooking, and that it was a fine judgement thing how much salt to use and for how long. I personally felt he had used a bit too much, not disastrous but the salt was overtly noticeable on what was otherwise an excellently roasted hunk of fish.
The razor clam under its thermidor sauce was a bit wriggly to pin down but juicy and tender once speared. I love razor clams but don’t get to eat them anywhere often enough and treating one this way was novel and very successful.
Cornish Custard tart or Cherry mess? I had the tart which was as rich as you’d expect from any Cornish dairy product-based comestible. The mess certainly didn’t fall foul of the trade descriptions act but looked a bit too sweet for my savoury inclined palate.
All in all these weekly supper clubs look like being good value and good fun if this standard keeps up, and with someone of Lee’s experience at the helm there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.
Lee Bull’s Supperclub will be available from 5pm until 11pm every Wednesday at Vintage Salt Upper Street. Further guest chefs will be announced soon.