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The Salt House, Abbey Road, St. John’s Wood, London NW8

The Salt House, formerly The Belgrave Arms, is one of the many “Gastro Pubs” that have been springing up in and around the London area in the last few years. It's like a cross between a sitting room with comfy sofas and a bar in one room, and a relaxed restaurant feel in the other. I tried it out for lunch last week with high hopes, as I had heard it was connected with the former owner of The well known Brackenbury in Shepherds Bush.

The tables were nicely spaced and they were fine about us having a four table for two. My bete noire is the two table, feeling cramped and unrelaxed doesn’t bode well for a good couple of hours eating! We settled down with our menus and a waiting game began as the one over worked waitress tried to cope with all the tables on her own - even though the place was only a third full. Our request for bread was alas, not forthcoming even after several attempts. Still the starter that we shared (having chosen it by spotting its arrival on the next door table) was very good, smoked mackerel pate served with toast and cranberry compote. The pate was first class, but we both agreed the compote was too bitter as an accompaniment.

When the salad of wood pigeon, baby spinach and crispy parma ham finally appeared, I jokingly referred to it as an anorexic’s delight, but this was perhaps rather unkind as, after all it was not a main course. It was tender and succulent with an exquisite dressing, leaving a lovely flavour in the mouth of fresh herbs and oil. The main course choices included braised ham hock with puy lentils and salsa verde, or there's grilled grey mullet, olive oil mash and red wine, or you could have breast of chicken, potato pancake and girolles.

We felt defeated by the tempting array of puddings, although my eyes were gunning for the panna cotta with caramelised bananas, and the rhubarb Eton mess sounded interesting, although probably groaning with calories! The large glass of wine my friend selected, a very drinkable ‘99 Australian Merlot, was absolutely mammoth, but maybe at £4.90 it should have been. I was only glad I had asked for the smaller size glass as I was driving, and had a more acceptably priced house French white at £2.40. Our bill for one starter, two salads, sparkling water wine and coffee came to about £38.00. All very fair except the poor service slightly spoiling things.

The lunch time set menu at £9.50 for two courses and £12.50 for three courses had perhaps not the most inspiring choices to choose from, but being in ‘The Wood’, I don’t think that many of its clientele will be too worried about prices. They will be thanking their lucky stars that at last this affluent residential has woken up to the fact that its locals need good restaurants and wine bars with a convivial atmosphere within walking distance of their homes.

Louise Elgin - April 2000

The Salt House, Abbey Road, St. John’s Wood, London NW8

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