The mere mention of a tasting menu can inspire equal parts rapture or dread in a diner, depending on that person’s levels of patience and admiration for the cheffier, more cerebral aspects of gastronomy. Thankfully, we have the likes of messrs Aizpitarte and Chang to thank for a more informal, casual style of prix fixe, that does away with decorum and pretence in favour of flavour and conviviality.
It’s a trend that hasn’t escaped a city like London, that has enjoyed relaxed offerings from eateries such as Lyle’s and Pidgin. Instead of aping global trends, it has found its own voice at an increasingly crowded global table. Adding their stamp to a growing trend are the chefs behind Smoke & Salt, a restaurant enjoying a year-long residency at Islington’s beloved Chapel Bar.
Chefs Remi Williams (ex-Deuxave and Craigie on Main, in Boston) and Aaron Webster (formerly of Dinner by Heston) met at the pass at Notting Hill’s The Shed, and bonded over a shared love of the culinary techniques suggested in the restaurant’s name. ‘We’re focused on creating an interesting selection of dishes for guests when they come in, without making things too formal,’ Webster says. ‘Sometimes, limiting a diner’s selection will allow people to be even more adventurous with foods they wouldn’t normally try out.’
The benefits of focusing on a singular menu are well understood – the quality of produce and execution can be upheld at a very high level, while the predictability in supply costs and consistent overheads means that the prices are kept down. A five-course meal of beautifully cooked and plated food can thus be a fraction of the cost it might be at more traditional establishments.
Originally conceived and run as a pop-up, the duo’s love of curing, salting and smoking is evident. ‘We’re sticklers for technique and flavour. If a cook or chef decides they’re no longer learning new things, then their food becomes stagnant. We’re learning every day and coming up with creative ways to bring ancient and traditional techniques to the fore,’ Williams explains to Wallpaper*.
The menu at the time of opening is succinct but subtly beautiful. Cipollini onions are served with charred spring onions and coddled egg, while new season grilled spring lamb is complemented with Jerusalem artichoke, green garlic and pickled okra. The space itself has been kept familiar to regulars, with industrial additions such as hand-distressed steel tables and concrete candleholders adding a contemporary touch to match the high-wire plates leaving the kitchen.
A year seems a long time, but where does this residency fit into the pair’s long-term plans? ‘This venture at the Chapel Bar is, we feel, our final proving ground before making it to the proverbial “big league”,’ Williams says. ‘The bottom line is, food should be fun, and it’s something we want all of our cooks and guests to feel.’