Season’s Ticket: Salon review

Nick BuglioneNick Buglione is reminded that meat is not essential, but a smile possibly is?

Salon, home to seasonal, constantly innovative British cuisine is possibly the most interesting cooking in Brixton, although I would nod to fellow travellers such as Naughty Piglets or Smoke and Salt.

And you cannot argue with the quality of the food coming out of the Salon kitchen. I tend to argue about tasting/small plate menus. Thankfully, Salon do it as well as anyone in terms of user-friendly sequencing, rather than an “all at once” deluge. But, as much to do with the practicalities of a small kitchen as anything (I presume), choice isn’t expansive. At least to this carnivore. Menus change monthly and exploit proper, committed seasonal availability. Ticks all the provenance and modern innovative cooking technique and flavour combo boxes.

We are having the set menu at £36 and start with an excellent octopus, monk’s beard (Tuscan samphire-like green shoots) and blood orange creation. I can’t get my octopus this tender and forgiving so there is real skill in action here. Celeriac, spinach, almond and wild garlic reminds me meat isn’t always necessary – I’m not smart enough to second guess all the complex processes but it’s a good eat.

So on to what more or less counts as the main courses. At this point there is choice, Romanesco, Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese, red onion and buckwheat or Mrs Butler’s mutton, potato cake and savoy cabbage. My neighbours had the former and seemed happy but I saw a “puddle” of cheese sprinkled with veg so it must have been in the eating.

You will be unsurprised to discover I went for the mutton (no idea who Mrs Butler is). I love “lesser” cuts of meat given the slow cooking treatment and the mutton was delightful – tender with submarine depth of flavour alongside a potato cake that blended soft and crispy perfectly. However, our Mrs Butler comes with a supplementary charge so our £36 has just become a £42 menu. I suspect they could have a meat option that doesn’t cost extra without killing themselves, or Mrs Butler could manage a more substantial serving, but hey-ho, maybe I live in an over-opinionated world of one?

Dessert comes in the form of rhubarb, crunchy almonds and a hay ice cream which divided opinions. Mrs B wasn’t sure about the ice cream and thought it one foodie twist too many. I liked it.

The wine list is of course excellent (as a wine shop is attached). We had a smooth Argentinian Malbec at £36 but prices go down to the early ’20s and there are good by-the-glass options throughout. Ditto cocktails which are equally impressive despite the must-have silly names. I had a fir-infused Beyond The Pines, pine vodka, Douglas fir syrup, Talisker and pine salt. Fine pine.

So, Salon did what Salon clearly does well. But, for this diner, something felt absent. I have been in classic French restaurants with the vibe “we make great food, and are prepared to bestow on you the honour of coming in and paying for it”. Maybe I just don’t warm to take it or leave it menus or the line between confident and over-confident is a blurry one. I guess I want them to love me as much as they love their cooking. I doubt they are worried.

18 Market Row SW9 8LD | | 020 7501 9152 | @Salon_Brixton