I have a confession to make, dear reader. I went for a very expensive meal last week, with the good intentions of writing a review for it. It was Rök Smokehouse in Islington, and the bill came to around £100 for two people. *Just* about justifiable if it had produced a blog post. Only problem is, I drank far too much red wine prior, and maybe an espresso martini, and I actually can’t remember it all that well.
But, foodie foot soldier that I am – I’ve cobbled together some blurry photos, badgered my (equally tipsy, but less forgetful) friend S, and I will do my best. Just know – if I can’t remember it, or S can’t remember it, I haven’t written it. None of this is made up – merely, told through the hazy blur of alcohol – which makes everything better anyway, right?
We started with a scallop each. Repeat: SCALLOP. Singular. For £8. It came in the shell, dressed with ‘nduga and and seaweed. It was great. Slightly charred on the outside, snowflake soft on the inside (a bit like all of us, eh?). There was scallop roe too, which freaked me out. I haven’t had that before, although it was lovely. I’m used to roe bursting in your mouth – saucy – like those little plastic pearls they’re trying to ban in face wash (I don’t put those in my mouth. That’s what I imagine they’d taste like, though).
I can’t, truthfully, remember the ‘nduja, although it probably amplified that smoky charred taste. What I DO remember was the seaweed. Chewing it, in particular. It was rubbery, and there was a lot of it (SEAWEEDS). Unnecessary.
We shared two mains – the mallard (I didn’t know what that was, and now I can hear everyone using the word left right and centre. Well, on Great British Menu , anyway – yes I’m still catching up). It actually means ‘dabbling duck’ and it looks exactly like the duck you feed breadcrumbs to at the park. Do you feel bad yet? It came with ceps and chanterelle mushrooms. Context: I love mushrooms, of every kind. Anything with mushrooms in gets my vote – and they were perfection. The duck was delicious, too – the best I’ve ever had. I’m not normally a fan – I don’t like the sickly sweet sauces it’s usually drenched in. Also, I find the meat a little on the flabby, fatty side – like undercooked pork belly (eurgh). But here, crisp, crunchy skin gave way to firm, plump flesh – this duck had been laying off the breadcrumbs. Or maybe eating more? I don’t know, either way, it was the star of the meal.
We had a second main to share – venison with lingonberry jam and smoked chestnut. Now, I have to admit, I don’t remember this one as well – bar two facts. The first is, I’d already eaten half of the duck, and I was completely over red wine and red meat by this point, and I didn’t enjoy it. The second is, it came with this pâté (which I now, in hindsight, presume was the chestnut, with venison? I have no idea) and that was bloody gorgeous. Spreadable luxury, in a word (or two). I still couldn’t finish it – add to that a side of (thick, creamy) cauliflower cheese and I was done for.
But this was a good thing, as S later assured me – because her cut of venison was overdone. I gave her mine instead (I don’t remember sharing food, and it sounds so unlike me I still think she might have just taken it when I wasn’t looking). In summary? The meat was forgettable, the pâté was perfection. Just don’t order it with a vat of red wine and a crispy mallard.
We shared another side – grilled squash with kale, pine nuts and kornblomst (cornflower, OBVIOUSLY ) – a dish so bland it was criminal. What I had been really missing during the meal was some acidity – some sharpness – to cut through all that richness. Or a fish main even, to lighten the meaty load?
One more story worth mentioning. I’ve uhmmed-and-aaahed over telling it, because I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, but it’s too good not to. We took a particular shine to one waiter (not in a weird way). I think we were the only people there under thirty, so he took a shine back. Towards the end of the meal, he cleared up our water glasses to my great consternation (trust me, I needed it by this point). Then he brought them back after I made a big fuss, and I made sure to fill them up with water so he knew THEY WERE NOT TO BE TAKEN AGAIN. He came back to the table and looked at me.
“That had tequila in it,” he said.
“What?” I said.
“I gave you some tequila,” he repeated. “And now you’ve poured water over it.”
“Oh,” I said, looking at it. I smelt it. There was definitely tequila in there. “Well we’ll just have to drink it anyway.”
He nodded, like that was what had to happen. So we did. Now, maybe it was the red wine, maybe it was the mallard, but it actually tasted pretty good. Even better, when I saw it wasn’t on that £100 bill. Pretty steep for a meal I was going to struggle to remember the next morning (although, the more I write, the more my memory returns. Maybe I should do this more often).
The final say? Impeccable service (even without the tequila, although that helped). A promising, if not miserly, starter. The best duck I’ve ever eaten and a delightfully naughty pâté I can’t remember the ingredients of. Would I go again? Probably not. Would I recommend? If you have the cash and you’re in the area, why not. Did it make an already excellent evening even better?
149 Upper Street
London N1 1RA, UK
£100 with service
Three out of five stars
*Special mention to S for the photos – mine weren’t great.