11 Highbury Park
N5 1QJ

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What’s the vibe?

To be stylish yet unpretentious is one of life's hardest balances to strike. Apart from perhaps David Beckham, the Birkenstock clog, and the Ikea canteen, it’s rare and even scarcer in the realm of restaurants. Saltine, however, is both of these things.

It’s the latest outpost from Mat Appleton and Jess Blackstone – the duo that bought you baking empire Finks (and its iconic Guinness chocolate cake). A transformed version of what used to be Highbury’s Famous Chicken N Pizza, Saltine does that clever thing where you deploy wooden tables, chairs and plasterwork that would not seem out of place in your local library and transform the space into a double-page spread from Architectural Digest.

Ambience digested, you could only assume you’re at Saltine for one reason – a sharing plate concept. However, you would be entirely wrong. We’re dealing with the rare breed that is the lesser-spotted three-course menu, and this is one populated with nostalgic, hearty classics. A fish stew with a side of thick-cut chips and frilly bistro salad, a slab of warm sticky toffee apple cake with a dollop of cold cream, a duck leg lathered in peppercorn sauce – the list goes on.

For fear of sounding like the mouth breathers who claim a meal isn’t a meal without meat, it’s rather lovely to encounter a restaurant that serves starters, mains and puds. Why? Because we’ve had it up to here with food-sharing diplomacy, and if we have to draw one more invisible boundary down a bulb of burrata, we might just lose the will.

What to eat?

There’s a clear obsession with provenance and seasonality at the core of Saltine, and the influence of head chef Phil Wood’s time in the kitchens of St. John Marylebone and Spring is marked throughout the menu. Stripped of unnecessary frills or frippery, it’s simply food you want to devour.

Start off by diving forks into plates piled high with citrussy Cornish crab, fennel and pomelo, pumpkin scapece (escabeche’s Italian cousin) with walnuts and salty shavings of spenwood and the restaurant's namesake: saltines – a soda cracker that serves as a vehicle for shovelling unctuous rillettes into your mouth. Lip-smacking stuff.

The mains feel like a journey back to nostalgic home cooking (that is, if your family could actually cook). A brothy fish stew with boiled potatoes and a glossy dollop of rouille, a peppercorn-loaded duck leg with the bitter crunch of tardivo, roast pork loin with celeriac and jammy apple – you get the gist. Despite an ever-changing menu, there are two items as dependable to Saltine as Alison Hammond is to British television that will always make an appearance – the thick-cut chips and salad doused in vinaigrette. A certified must-order.

To finish, commence by deleting the ZOE app and then order the sticky toffee apple cake. The hype is deserved – a burly slab of fudgy rapture that’s liberally soaked in sticky toffee sauce and finished with cold cream. It’s yet another item on Saltine’s menu that you won’t want to share.

What to drink?

The wine list focuses on low-intervention European-focused bottles, and the house wine is the way to go. A jammy Primitivo for under £40 – need we say more? For those longing for pep in their step, the cocktail list is populated with plenty of grown-up concoctions peppered with shiso, quince and other Aesop-adjacent flavours.

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