Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Nook of love

If the landlord of the Victoria Park has any decency, they'll be paying Nook commission. Even on a Monday night, the restaurant's front-of-house staff are sending a steady stream of people to the pub to while away the time until a table becomes available.

Nook's no-booking policy might be the source of frustration to some, but it's a perfectly reasonable pre-emptive strike against the contemporary scourge of the small restaurant: no-shows. Indeed, the fact that they're even open on a Monday does them credit, prompted as it is by the generous desire to ensure that the staff of other eateries can have the opportunity to enjoy fine dining on their day off. Nook's popularity on any day of the week is unsurprising, though, given the pedigree of some of those involved behind the scenes, whose previous ventures include Ember, Hoof and Dusty Knuckle.

Considering ourselves extremely fortunate to have bagged the last available table (whose wonkiness is immediately corrected by our attentive waiter in time-honoured tradition, with a well-positioned piece of folded cardboard), we marvel at the wall of wine and the fact that there are a further five different natural wines on tap. One melt-in-the-mouth bread roll and butter and one plate of blistered-to-perfection, salted padron peppers later, and we're ready for the main event.

As always with a small-plate restaurant, the dilemma is not only which dishes to choose but how many. In three of the five we plump for, the leading lights aren't quite upstaged, but the quality of the supporting cast certainly makes the overall show sing. Spicy harissa mayonnaise gives a trio of light arancini some zing; a gooey ball of burrata is brought to life with vibrant chimichurri; Middle White sausages from celebrated rare-breed butcher Huntsham Court Farm sit on a rich bean cassoulet. Best of the bunch are the pressed potato - a herby, garlicky but surprisingly non-creamy cousin of dauphinoise - and Nook's signature staple, tempura battered enoki. I've never quite understood it when people have talked of mushrooms as a meat substitute, but this magnificent specimen is juicy and flavoursome and genuinely has the texture of pulled pork.

As befits a menu that simply lists the components of each dish, avoiding pretence and superfluous adjectives and adverbs with all the stringent rigour of an Ernest Hemingway novel, our dessert is not referred to as a deconstructed lemon and ginger cheesecake - though that would be one way to describe it. "Lip-smackingly delicious" would be another.

A word of warning: even if the sound of stainless steel scraping on earthenware crockery sets your teeth on edge, Nook's chefs will drive you to it. If only licking the plate wasn't considered undignified in polite company.

At around £65 for a meal for two excluding service, Nook isn't cheap and as such is one for special occasions. But there's no doubt you get what you pay for and after your first visit you may find your definition of "special occasions" becomes rather more relaxed.

(An edited version of this review appeared on the Buzz website.)

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