If it were not for my catching movement in the corner of my eye as I walked past the courtyard of the Westerns Laundry, men and women setting the final touches to tables and curtains and themselves, I probably would have headed too far down Drayton Park and would have then had to bring out my map, again. I do not often find myself in this neck of the woods and did not particularly want to saunter into some unfortunate person’s garden in residential North London expecting lunch.
Birch trees obscure the front of the restaurant; squat pretty birch trees surrounded by benches basking in the sunshine. Large glass doors open into a refreshingly austere yet sophisticated space, industrial, high ceilinged, a wide, breathing embrace of fresh flowers on every dark wood table, some communal others not, bright white walls and an open kitchen in which you can see young chefs ply their trade.
I sat by the wall opposite the massive blackboard with the menu written on by hand. Not the best handwriting in the world, but all was legible and part of the charm.
One column for food and another for wine, the food listed from small to large portions with dessert right at the bottom. It was an eclectic, simple assortment of beguiling ingredients that commanded an encompassing approach to an order. They serve only what is fresh on the day, a delightful concept, and on the day I visited, were items like cured salmon, salmorejo, Morecambe oysters and pigeon. Exciting dishes with a seafood predominance. I absolutely adore this burgeoning trend of small plate restaurants, turning fine dining on its head by serving similarly styled dishes for a fraction of the price but of the same quality. It is accessible cooking for people who cannot afford to dine fancy every weekend.
The service here is attentive and convivial, the gent who served me knew just when I was ready to order and spoke knowledgeably about the menu without the hoity-toity pretentiousness I have gotten used to. He also seemed genuinely excited for me and unabashedly impressed with my order plates that he thought complimented each other. Whether it was an act or not I am not sure, but it is always nice to talk about food with a waiter who enjoys what he serves.
I like the music at Westerns Laundry too, the kind that treads the line between acoustic and chillstep, deviating slightly often enough but maintained the relaxed mood and comfortable vibrations.
With regards to the food, I mean no disrespect to Westerns Laundry but I must admit that the highlight of my meal there was actually the bread they served gratis with some smooth perfectly softened butter. Perhaps it was because I was not expecting it, perhaps as well because it attended to my bread loving proclivities, but I trembled with unreserved pleasure eating that bread.
Two thick slices of perfect sourdough, thinly crusted with a deliriously tasty, soft and pillowy centre. It had just enough elastic starchiness to make it fun on the palate, marrying a crust which was superbly textured. I had to ask where it came from, and the waiter with a knowing smile candidly told me where the bakery was located and how I could get some for myself. I will undoubtedly be making my pilgrimage to Dusty Knuckle Bakery soon.
Three courses, if you can call it that were well-spread out. I got my croquette and whelks at near enough the same time, and then my mussels with some extra bread – which I asked for – before my largest dish that eventually came. A singular croquette in a tiny uneven clay plate descended first onto my table.
It was quite an immensely rich and robust thumb sized croquette, filled with softened pieces of fatty meat, cartilage and other bits that added a textural complexity to the buttery mix. With the wholegrain mustard mayonnaise, the piquancy of which balanced out the fat, it was a splendid bite of food indeed.
I will say I was a little disappointed by the whelks. Despite them having a recognisable freshness to them, I am not much a fan of stuff to be eaten in lettuce. I liked the gochujang, scallion and sesame inclusions but I do feel steamed Chinese pancakes would have been much better suited in my mind. Still a tasty dish, one that was quickly dispatched.
The mussels, though not as plump as the ones I had recently at Kricket, looked brilliant in the small bowl they came, bathed in a white aromatic crème-fraiche sauce. In each shell, much to my surprise, were not just the meat of the mussels themselves, but little elegantly minute cubes of mirepoix: the celery, onions and carrots, nestled among tiny succulent and savoury strips of bacon. Gorgeous buttered bread, moreish sauce, and delicious mussels all sent me into a series clandestine giggles of joy and moans of ecstasy.
The monkfish, the most expensive item on the menu that day, was equally if not more splendid than the dishes that came before. The meaty, perfectly cooked freshness of grilled monkfish steak topped with a generous portion of crumbly pangretata, rested soulfully upon glistening, silky leeks that combined winningly with everything it supported. I polished that plate clean with just the central monkfish bone left in the middle.
Since it was rather hot outside, I decided to treat myself with dessert, a simple sounding vanilla ice-cream with cherries and pistachio. Once again, I was astonished by a supreme demonstration of harmony that I was not exactly ready for. Incredibly smooth and luxurious vanilla ice-cream sprinkled with subtly salty pistachio crumb, nestled at the centre of a sanguine circle of beautiful squashed cherries. I do not hesitate when I say it was one the best desserts I’ve had in months, perfect for the moment and exactly what I was looking for.
Westerns Laundry was a spectacular triumph, a fantastic restaurant by all measures, a meticulous yet simple rendition of British small plates lightly influenced by nuanced and appropriate European grace. They do the things that matter incredibly well, making me already want to return so soon after visiting.
Location: 34 Drayton Park, Highbury East, London N5 1PB