There comes a point in every head chef’s career when they contemplate starting their own restaurant. For Alex Jackson, who has worked as head chef at Dock Kitchen and Rotorino under the expert guidance of Stevie Parle, the opening of Sardine is his first step into the unknown, becoming a restaurant owner himself.
The location is central enough, although it is between Angel and Old Street station and in a residential area which is unlikely to get many walk-ins. For a restaurant like Sardine, word of mouth will be vital, but with Stevie Parle as mentor and restaurant consultant and Alex’s own exemplary cooking background, you can only see Londoners readily flocking to his new creation. The decor is relaxed, colourful and dominated by their open kitchen where Alex and his team create their magic.
To be fair, the food isn’t just from the Provence and Languedoc regions of France, but there are influences from Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and the surrounding regions. What is a common theme is that the dishes are hearty and warming family style dishes. The soupe au pistou has gorgeous vegetables mixed with provençal sauce which contains cloves of garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil. The roast quail was juicy and delicate in taste with a simple warm olive sauce and anchovies, although it was tricky to dismember.
Their signature dish is the lamb à la ficelle, which is made from a whole leg of lamb tied on a string and cooked over an open wood fire much like a vertical rotisserie. The meat picks up extra flavours from this form of cooking although it is very labour intensive as you need to make sure the meat is evenly cooked and not dried out. The dish is accompanied by healthy white beans and green sauce. The wild sea-trout is gently charred until the skin is crispy and flavoured with a simple dollop of aioli. The presentation isn’t Sardine’s strong point, but then you wouldn’t expect that to be the focus coming from Stevie Parle’s school of anti-fine dining real food cooking.
The rustic nature of the menu continued with the desserts: the apricot galette had a delectable flaky crust with the ripe apricot baked to a jammy consistency and it was just the right portion size for those who are nervous about ordering 3 courses for their meals. The crepe was wafer-thin, light and buttery with cherries and ice-cream.
It is the type of menu that will change seasonally and with a huge amount of Gallic charm, Sardine will surely be expecting a steady stream of returning customers to dine on Alex’s tempting menu.