I’m a big fan of Salvation Jane for coffee, cake and their tremendous brunches, in fact I wrote about it earlier this year shortly after they opened, but despite the number of times I’ve recommended it to others as a dining option near Old Street, I’ve yet to eat my last meal of the day there. A recent announcement from their Twitter account declaring £4 cocktails during happy hour, I believe 4-7.30pm, had me mentally trying to squidge in a visit amongst my increasingly hectic schedule. And then their PR got in contact to promote their re-launched dinner menu and I couldn’t say yes quick enough, it was the perfect excuse to shuffle my plans around and finally try their evening offerings.
Salvation Jane is one of a blossoming number of cafes that specialise in coffee, but also offer a full days dining service. Big sister of Fitzrovia’s Lantana, Salvation Jane joins the likes of Clerkenwell’s Workshop and Caravan, who may be better known for their coffee and brunch menus, but where I’ve had excellent evening meals too. To a lesser extent you have Notes, Fernandez and Wells and Foxcroft and Ginger along with many others, who go half way to bridge the gap by focussing again on coffee and whilst not having a full kitchen in most instances, provide excellent baked goods and brilliantly sourced charcuterie and cheese plates. A common theme is well made cocktails, one of my favourite trends this year was ‘cocktails in coffee shops’, and well thought out craft beer and wine lists. These coffee shops have evolved in such a way as to be able to cater to customer demand, taking service throughout the day, into the evening and providing a way to survive in this competitive and tough economic climate. What I find interesting is that because of the attention to detail and care required to make consistently good coffee, all other elements seem to follow the same principle and therefore almost instinctively fall into place very well indeed, I’m struggling to think of a bad meal eaten in a place you’d predominantly class as a coffee shop or even brunch restaurant. I hasten to add the same certainly can’t be said when turned on it’s head; how many restaurants have served you a really good coffee?
So, last Thursday I managed to lure the boy East again with the promise of a free feed, not easy, especially as I forced him to go all the way to Dishoom Shoreditch the evening before for my birthday, I know, what a witch! The entrance is not as inviting as it could possibly be, the challenge being that you’re forced to walk through a deserted takeaway coffee shop space to get to the bar and kitchen which then leads to a kind of reception, before opening up into the dining space. This all leads to us feeling a little awkward and unsure at which point to make our presence known, should we wait to be seated or do we follow daytime protocol where I’d automatically tend to plonk myself down without feeling the need to be seated. The dining room is large and feels more warehousy of an evening, now windows become filled with inky sky, and although bustling the space isn’t cosy, not cold but I feel the need to keep my coat on. We sneak over to a table whilst trying to catch someone’s eye, the little bird from the beautiful mural on the back wall becomes my dining companion, once we do two Jane’s Negroni’s are promptly ordered; Millers Gin, Lillet Blanc, Lillet Rosso, Aperol and orange bitters makes a beautifully, but not too, sweet but complex drink, not a Negroni for sure, but a rather lovely cocktail indeed, with these we snack on some beetroot and parsnip crisps tossed with fennel seeds.
The menu is divided into Snacks, Small Plates and Larger Plates in a way we’re so used to seeing these days. We decide to treat these as starters and mains, though if there were more of you, the temptation would be to order everything (there’s not *too* many choices) and share. Asian style sticky pork ribs and the roasted butternut squash and Wigmore salad with toasted hazelnuts are highly tempting options on the small plates section, but we pick two classics in the end that we know we’ll both enjoy. Grilled halloumi with salsa verde and lemon is an easy winner, cheese is on the right side of squeaky and the sauce vibrant and fresh. Our beef and taleggio meatballs with chunky tomato sauce are presented in a rather pleasing little line and are rich, sweet and studded with globules of molten cheese. We ask for some bread to mop up those delicious sauces and I’m delighted to be brought a plate of sliced Turkish bread that I ate so much of whilst in Australia, a nod to the owners Antipodean roots.
We share two mains of Cypriot lamb in filo pastry with caulifower kasir and a yoghurt dressing, and pork belly with colcannon croquettes, kale and apple cider jus. Lamb is tender, shredded, wrapped in an aromatic tomatoey sauce and abundantly stuffed within a delicate filo case. Kasir and yoghurt is a heavenly accompaniment to the warming lamb pastry, mild and soothing, with charred cauliflower niblets and little bursts of pomegranate. The pork dish is nothing short of wonderful, belly is cooked perfectly, meat is moist with that unctuous layer of fat and most important crispy, chewy crackling, kale is well seasoned and tossed with bacon (more pig, why the hell not?!) and, well I love a croquette, and these are like fried pucks of bubble and squeak, sauce is richly, sweetly appley.
So far so harmonious, we’ve managed to share everything with no squabbling, but dessert is where things get serious. I go for the classic toasted banana bread so prevalent in these sorts of establishments and one of my favourite snacks, here it’s served with spiced mascarpone & passion fruit, predictably the boy chooses lemon cheesecake, cheesecake, apart from meat and mince pies, being his favourite thing in the world. My banana bread comes in two hearty slices, much less dense than it looks, it’s still a mammoth portion, but I plough through with enthusiasm, sweeping forkfulls through tart seeds and dipping into cinnamony mascarpone. But then I demand a taste of his cheesecake and all of a sudden feel short changed. I would never order, buy, or make cheesecake, but a taste of this makes me wonder if that’s because I’ve never tried a decent one before, perhaps because this is baked, which I’m not sure I’ve tried, rather than the insipid versions I’ve had from supermarket shelves that fade by comparison. A massive slab of a portion, this is served with a little jug of double cream just in case it’s not quite decadent enough, flecked with vanilla and laced with a subtle zesty lemon, and it’s incredible. I’m won over by that tiny taste, and that’s all I’m getting as the plate is quickly whisked back.
I’m fully expecting to enjoy the evening but still find myself thoroughly impressed by the skill of the kitchen, each plate is impeccably thought out, cooked and presented. Although service is casual, but warm and friendly, I like that, and would far rather that than to be fussed over, music is loud and fun and yet still unobtrusive in such a large space, the room relaxed and buzzy, though I still feel it lacks something in the way of warmth, that could well have something to do with the monstrous weather outside however.
People. Come for dinner, and wine, and cocktails! Salvation Jane, as at a growing number of cafes, is not just for coffee and toast and bacon and brunch, the evening offering makes it more than worth a visit in it’s own right.
It’s also worth checking out their blog Scrambling Eggs for an interesting insight behind the scenes.