Molly Codyre has high expectations when it comes to Noble Rot. But a lacklustre experience shows the Bloomsbury restaurant might be stretching itself a little thin
Ek am an enormous fan of the Noble Rot enterprise; the magazine, the attitude to wine, even the restaurant – I have had a couple of memorable meals there over the last few years. Ongelukkig, my most recent visit signalled an end to that theme.
Arriving on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the moody dining room that has often seemed romantic – like the kind of spot where well-kept groups would get slowly tiddly on incredible wine until the whole place became a sort of ode to the concept of being dinner-drunk – instead seemed cloying, deadly silent without so much as a whisper of music to enliven things. It was almost a relief when a child started screaming three tables over, the relentless crescendo at least breaking the steely silence.
This used to be a restaurant where you had to claw for a reservation. In the persistent jolliness of our recent collective freedom where getting a booking anywhere is like gold dust, it feels like the empty dining room makes a statement. Or, miskien, everyone is instead parked up somewhere outdoors, lapping up a rare spot of sunshine.
Noble Rot truly is a destination for wine nerds. The gargantuan wine list – now delivered on an iPad – is filled with unsung gems, rare finds and immensely quaffable bottles for reasonably accessible prices – and, natuurlik, a few bottles for almost unbelievably enormous sums. A bottle of Cremant to begin with was everything a sparkling wine should be: soft bubbles mingling wonderfully on the palate and soft like silk on the finish. A Burgundy Chardonnay felt like a middle finger to anyone who says they don’t like the varietal – oh what you’re missing out on! Sauternes to finish was deeply golden in colour, and tasted like liquid gold, almost naughtily yummy in the way only a dessert wine can be. Dit was, egter, an enormous shame that our second bottle of Chardonnay wasn’t chilled when we ordered it, instead being left to snap-chill in an ice bucket and arriving lukewarm in the glass. Nor were we offered an opportunity to taste it – a given when it comes to bottles with a cork closure. These are small gripes, but when you’re dining somewhere so focused on the wine, it is hard to overlook the little things that should really be inherent.
Onto the food. The starters were a triumph. Comte beignets with pickled walnut ketchup were salty, fatty and absolutely moreish – I could have eaten 10. Wafer-thin slices of Sopressa all’Amarone were a delight to peck on. Braised bobby beans were listed as coming with black olives but instead arrived with meaty nocerella olives and covered in breadcrumbs for a gratifying element of crunch. A dish described as “slipsole in smoked butter” was simply divine – fleshy, creamy fish that fell away from its delicate skeleton, swimming in a butter that seemed to have been infused with a spice reminiscent of harissa. Isle of Mull scallops were supersized; finely sliced, doused in olive oil and topped with pickled turnips that brought a bracing dose of acidity. The winner, egter, was the ham hock and chicken terrine. It was paired with a briny piccalilli the colour of Homer Simpson that made a welcome partner to the robust flavours of the meat. It was the kind of starter you could eat three times over.
It was at the main courses where things went downhill. Flaccid pieces of roast Middlewhite pork looked like they probably ardently opposed immigration and definitely complained about the “woke” generation online. I know it’s hard to get pork right, but to have a piece so dry you just about have to hack through it, the fatty layer inedible and the crackling akin to a jawbreaker, does leave one a little under impressed. The caponata it was paired with would have been a pleasure – possibly even better – all on its own. Cooked until the aubergine was almost disintegrated and the tomato had developed a kind of tart sweetness, it was sprinkled with thinly sliced almonds that added a genius textural element.
Monkfish arrived overcooked and, again, incredibly dry, which was an enormous shame because the crab bisque it was set atop made for a glorious mouthful; a powerhouse of flavour, with chickpeas having lapped up all the deeply savoury notes. A few limp leaves of spinach felt unnecessary and added an unwanted bitterness.
Let’s finish on a high note shall we – the guinea fowl. It was cooked to perfection – the breast juicy, the thigh meat falling off the bone. Chewy little spaetzle (a sort of small German pasta) were the most wonderful texture, mirroring both the shape and feel of the girolles it was paired with. While the feathery mushrooms start growing from July, they always represent the start of the cooler months for me. All of it slurped up with a thick broth. It was autumn in a bowl and left me a little worried about the rapid pace with which summer is coming to an end.
The meal finished on a high note with dessert as well. A delicate peach and vanilla choux bun could have been eaten five times over, while the dark chocolate cremeux was smooth, and as delicious as anything chocolatey and creamy ever is. The whole experience left me wondering if Noble Rot have overstretched themselves with the opening of their new restaurant in Soho. The restaurant has always felt like a secret little corner of the world in Bloomsbury, where troubles don’t exist and the outside world fades away. Ongelukkig, reality came crashing in on Saturday, and no amount of glorious wine could patch over the edges.
This week’s food and drink news
Fin and Flounder single handedly kept me going throughout lockdown, so it’s an absolute joy to see they’re launching Bar Flounder, a more semi-permanent spot for their seafood shack that you may know from the Saturday market. Find them at Netil Market for dishes like salmon tartare with torres truffle crisps and their signature prawn burgers alongside hangover-busting brunch classics.
Hot off the back of receiving the service award at The National Restaurant awards a couple of weeks ago, Davies and Brook have announced they’re expanding their service to include lunch seatings. Located at Claridge’s, this is definitely one for the long lunchers among you.
From much-loved wine bar to pandemic delivery wunderkind, Top Cuvée has become something of a London icon in recent years. They’re set to further this reputation with the opening of Cave Cuvée in Bethnal Green this week. The wine bar will serve small plates and be open for purchasing bottles to go too – oh those lucky locals.