Noble Rot is an aspirational place for me, because in theory it says that I could one day be a restauranteur. Originally the folks behind Noble Rot had just a magazine—a beautiful magazine with some good features—and now they have a beautiful website, restaurant and wine bar too. Right now I have just a humble website, but perhaps one day I too could take what I’ve learned from gluttony and start selling my own food.
Then again, I’d be a bit worried in trying to follow Noble Rot, which is an impressive, stylish place. However, I have the advantage that, like the founders of Noble Rot, I know exactly what I want from a restaurant. Noble Rot is an instructive example of how to do this business correctly, even if it’s not the greatest restaurant in the world.
1. Keep the menu short and to the point
This is what menus should look like. A bunch of starters, a few mains, a few desserts. A short menu inspires confidence that they know what they’re doing. Simply listing ingredients is also reassuring, though increasingly common. For some reason I also like the fact that the vegetarian options don’t have a little ‘(v)’ after them, but I can’t exactly explain why—economy in presentation?
The combinations are mostly things I hadn’t tried before, even if I’d tasted particular ingredients—though perhaps not all as much as the halibut braised in an oxidised wine from a specific year that goes for around £300/bottle.
2. Do everything you do properly
I always have a good feeling about a restaurant when the bread is good. Perhaps it’s because it suggests they care about every element of the meal; perhaps it’s just because I love bread. Bread at Noble Rot doesn’t come free, but I’d rather pay £4 for a veritable pile of three different breads than nothing for an afterthought.
Here the offering is focaccia, sourdough and soda bread. The first is flaky and weighed down by the fact it’s utterly soaked in olive oil. Biting into out and feeling it exude oil like water out of a towel when you wring it out is joyous. The sourdough is like sourdough anywhere, chewy and light in the middle and tough and crusty on the outside. The soda bread is special: sweet like a digestive, heavy and crumbly, contrasting well with creamy butter. Five of us ate from the one plate and were satisfied.
Other starters were mostly excellent too. The burrata, pumpkin and hazelnut is just the sort of easy but effective contrast that you’d like to recreate at home if you could be bothered to cook a pumpkin—sweet, creamy and bitter. The rabbit and pork terrine was more or less what you’d expect, although my sister was put off by the giant lumps of solid fat it was studded with.
Best was the slipsole, a very delicate and small fish, whose bones you could completely avoid if you pulled it apart carefully from the centre. It had a very light flavour itself, like any other white fish minus most of the fishiness, but the dish tasted strongly of the smoked butter, which is quite unlike regular butter.
Before I’ve seen it served with bread, and then as now it tasted powerfully savoury, like it had been fermented or whipped with monosodium glutamate. But here it also tasted a bit like chorizo, from the smoking, as well as having the same orangey colour as its oil.
Even where Noble Rot fell down, it was instructive: of the mains, the duck was my least favourite. It was braised in wine, which lent it a sort of dirty, deep flavour, like beef casserole. And who doesn’t prefer their duck skin crispy? I honestly can’t see why anyone would do anything other than confit a duck leg. The quail with bacon and sprouts was better, but the waitress promised a medium rare wild bird and it was cooked through.
But the other main—the extra-special halibut—was good enough to make up for those slight mis-steps. The sauce was luxurious, creamy and sour, I suppose that was the oxidised-ness of the wine showing through. The halibut came in one thick cuboid chunk and came apart in substantial meaty flakes. It was on a bed of leek (soft and slick but mostly a flavourless vessel for the sauce) and if I’m not mistaken lemongrass. Most people don’t munch on lemongrass but after a long braising it was soft enough to just about chew through—though rather woody I enjoyed the tangy burst.
3. Keep to your theme
Make every element of the restaurant fit. It’s OK for a Chinese hotpot restaurant to have a conveyor belt, bright lighting and utilitarian service, but a fancy French restaurant needs to have exquisite attention to detail and nice wallpaper. Noble Rot does this too.
The first 10 or so metres in feels like a casual wine bar—albeit one offering some rather expensive bottles of wine, and with the special feature that you can try just 75ml of some of the wines, for an affordable sup of a special bottle. This first section is dark and atmospheric and loud with conversation.
The next section is equally dim and candle-lit but has an added old London wood panel feeling. There are wine-themed newspaper cartoons framed around the place, some of them quite amusing, and lots of stuff is a burgundy or red wine colour.
Keeping to these three rules makes Noble Rot a lovely place to go to even if you’re not seeking after one of their rare wines, and even if they make mistakes with your food (we had two main courses forgotten).
Score: 〶 – one medal (for an explanation of our scoring system, see here).