With a very well-thought of, similarly eponymous restaurant in Chiswick, as well as some impressive stints at La Trompette, the Ebury and Petrus, Michael Nadra goes it alone again, bringing some brilliant cooking to that lucky lot in Primrose Hill.
As if the denizens of this leafy little area don’t have enough good fortune already, what with their beautiful townhouses, the area’s literary past, and the ability to lay claim to their very own ‘set’, clambering over each other like randy tendrils toward the Hollywood sun. And while Jude, Ewan, Kate and Sadie (okay, not Sadie) have moved on to bigger and better things since those heady days of Natural Nylon, so, too, has Primrose Hill, with Bryn Williams doing some very fine things at Odette’s and Michael Nadra doing the same at this impressive new subterranean spot down Gloucester Avenue. It’s certainly a good looking place, with three very different dining rooms (a sky-lit conservatory; a cosy back room with open fire; and a glorious vault with cobbled flooring and original brickwork) offering the kind of versatility repeat customers might appreciate. A pretty little garden looks like a good spot come summertime, and a small bar knocks out the martinis for those awaiting their table.
It’s Primrose Hill, so expect to dine with the well-to-do. Brunch is very popular at the weekend, not least with the many yummy mummies of these parts, perching up against the bar, baby in one hand and cocktail in the other. Evenings welcome those who clearly book their tables using only the most refined RP, but expect more than a few foodies from further afield once word gets out; the short stumble from Camden Town and the very decent prices will ensure this place isn’t merely the preserve of the prosperous. And even though the staff might be ever so slightly hesitant (it’s only been open three weeks) they’re pretty much spot on in every other regard, bobbing around to the kind of deep house soundtrack designed to ensure those in tweed don't get the wrong idea.
Much like his Chiswick venue, the (predominantly) modern-European menu seems to be all about clarity, with excellent ingredients given plenty of room on plates that are brilliantly uncluttered and brilliantly judged – almost everything is balanced perfectly. There can’t be many better examples of this than the rare roast sirloin to start (£9), where thin slices of superb, perfectly seasoned beef roasted very rare (it’s almost carpaccio), a few rocket leaves, a gloriously creamy and light burrata pugliese and a rich and rounded truffle jus combine impeccably. The black tiger prawn, scallop and chive dumplings (£9) are more like ravioli than dumplings, but burst with a sweetness that works well with the light freshness of a very fine broccoli and spinach velouté.
Roasted cod (£20) is one of the standout mains, with a big slab of fish joined by steamed mussels (fresh and bouncy), sea spaghetti (a bit of a bugger to eat with dignity), brown shrimps, slivers of agata potato and a brilliant bisque that brings this slice of the sea together beautifully. The rump of lamb (£20) is a slightly simpler affair, but again, perfectly conceived to give the quality ingredients plenty of space to show just how good they are. The grilling of the lamb is spot on (heartily seasoned edges give way to sweet, pink meat); a disc of ratatouille is fresh and clear; and the rosemary gnocchi is obviously (and skilfully) homemade, even if it is, perhaps, a little light on the herb. The only other gripe is that the violet artichokes are too few (only two… and they’re babies) but otherwise it’s a very, very sound dish indeed.
Some cracking British and French cheeses (Lancashire Bomber and epoisses are just two of note) make the £10 cheeseboard a very viable option but for those with teeth a little sweeter, the black figs (£7) are excellent. Baked to stewed sweetness and given another hit of sugar from a boozy drizzle of Madeira, the fresh-as-a-daisy figs line up alongside a very light Greek yoghurt sorbet that takes the edge off all that sweetness, before a sprinkle of hardened thyme honey (lacking a little in the thyme) brings it back in. Much like the rest of those on the menu it’s a deliberate, clear and very good dish.
The list of martinis is pretty hearty, and thankfully they’re also pretty good (well, the bar is described as a ‘martini bar’), not least a very lovely ginger version, with a judiciously restrained approach to the actual ginger (in the wrong hands it’s too piquant) but a pleasing belt of booze. The wine list is pretty hefty too, with some excellent old world drops including a few (but not a huge number) available by the glass. A good Torroxal Albarino from Rias Baixas comes in at a perfectly reasonable £9 for a glass, but if you’re looking for a very good by-the-glass red then the Tandem ‘Ars Nova’ Tempranillo (£7.50) is a very good match to the meatier mains.
The Last Word
Given the quality of his first solo venture it’s surprising that Nadra’s talent remains a little under the radar for most people outside of Chiswick. This excellent addition to Primrose Hill should change all that, given that it’s even better.