Jessica Jill Photography
This offering from head chef James Cochran opened its matte black doors on Islington’s Upper Street in 2018, a year which also saw Cochran take the ‘Champion of champions’ crown on BBC 2’s Great British Menu. Cochran grew up in the oyster haven of Whitstable, which of course meant a stint at Wheelers Oyster Bar, and training at Michelin-starred The Ledbury and Harwood Arms followed. Cochran most recently ran the kitchen at his eponymous Liverpool Street restaurant James Cochran EC3, but this new solo project – named after a Strokes song – is primed to showcase the best of Cochran’s take on modern British cooking.
Set over two floors, a Scandi-meets-mid-century interior runs throughout, with double-height ceilings and large windows creating a bright and airy space that feels smart but relaxed. A mix of dark wood, ply counters, metal and exposed lighting contrasts with bold jewel tones and playful sugary pink seating. Grab a window seat (that looks direct from Copenhagen, naturally) downstairs for a more neutral, calming pocket of the room. Oversized, sturdy earthen tableware helps the dishes make an entrance – not that they need it, while the walls offer up a changing display of contemporary artwork from local talent and friends of the team.
Split into snacks, small plates and plates, our knowledgeable waitress did an excellent job helping us pick the recommended two small plates and one larger plate per person – it’s a tough call to make when every description sounds so temptingly innovative. Cochran takes inspiration from his Scottish-Caribbean roots, and the buttermilk jerk chicken with scotch bonnet jam is something of a signature for him. It’s a punchy-but-comforting delight, while the crispy curried cauliflower with smoked yogurt gives this humble vegetable new meaning. The focus on top quality produce is evident, as is Cochran’s coastal upbringing, and the roast Cornish ling and Cornish cured mackerel are both a beautifully presented triumph for the tastebuds. In fact, every dish is a lesson on presentation, with thoughtfully placed dashes of colour and surprising flavour combinations – the slow braised short rib of Dexter beef is accompanied by wild garlic, miso, salsify, oyster leaf and bone marrow. And the flavour doesn’t stop with dinner, a nutmeg custard tart with hibiscus and honey ice cream proves the perfect end to a night of exciting eating.
Even the cocktails are given the avant-garde 12:51 treatment. Try the 12:51 Bellini (prosecco with elderflower and a splash of bitters) for added depth of flavour, or the Kracken Jack (spiced rum with cloudy apple and apple jack syrup) complete with dried apple slice for something extra refreshing. The new £35 five-course taster menu on Mondays and Tuesdays is BYOB, without any corkage charge for extra good cheer.
Snacks, small and large plates, dessert and drinks, £150 for two.
A memorable and thoroughly modern meal minus the fuss. Whatever your appetite, the menu has something to suit that you won’t be keen to share.
107 Upper Street, N1 1QN; 1251.co.uk