This review was published in 2017. Sardine closed in 2021.
Southern French-inspired Sardine opened in 2016, bringing a ray of Mediterranean sunshine to the culinary hinterland between Angel and Old Street (the nearest food outlet off Micawber Street being the petrol station and McDonalds). It’s quite clear Sardine has a loyal following already: on a Saturday evening it was packed, presumably with local diners from the new City Road housing developments which have been popping up like bubonic pustules. The small bar area by the door was frustratingly cramped on arrival but this eased up to allow easy passage after a short wait. The atmosphere was lively without being irritating.
Sardine has been tastefully designed and makes good use of the space available to it, being as it is a conduit for the Parasol Unit art gallery. There is one long canteen-style table in the middle which is ideal for parties or all-day family lunches, with more intimate tables on the fringes for those who prefer to see and not be seen.
Sardine delivers simple, seasonal, unfussy food that makes you smile
The kitchen has nowhere to hide though. Alex Jackson is at the helm at Sardine, with a little guidance from his mate Stevie Parle (Parle doesn’t actually cook here – he’s too busy opening restaurants, with Palatino, Dock Kitchen, Rotorino and Craft also under his wing).
Sardine delivers simple, seasonal, unfussy food that makes you smile. I like the pared-down menu. It reminded me of the country restaurants I’ve been to in the south of France where there is virtually no choice but just a blackboard listing whatever the chef wants to cook that day. There is a bit more room for manoeuvre at Sardine, with 5 appetisers, 5 mains and about 5 desserts, but it retains that philosophy of keeping things simple and balanced.
Simplicity and brevity are actually more difficult to pull off than you think. As Blaise Pascal once said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time”. This minimal rusticity feels like a current trend, something which my beloved Noble Rot and The Sportsman in Whitstable do with aplomb. Indeed, the lamb I once had at Noble Rot “with white beans and green sauce” has eerily made an appearance on Sardine’s menu too. I’m not accusing anyone of food plagiarism – it’s a formula that works, so long as the cookery and ingredients are right.
Less is indeed more at Sardine: with only two or three concepts in each dish there is greater emphasis on the ingredients themselves. Food is thrown on the plate in an artfully slapdash way with flavour taking prominence over graceful presentation. My pork chop was cooked well and came with a little grilled radicchio on the side for bitterness. It didn’t dry out, but there was a bit too much fat left on the chop for my liking. A standard issue panna cotta for dessert was made more interesting with quince and the contrasting crunch of hazelnuts.
The wine list has decent coverage of France, Italy and Spain, as you would expect given the raison d’etre of the place, but I particularly like how it contains a few leftfield oddities as well as intriguing dessert wines (try the walnut wine and quince wine, which tastes like an old lady’s soap). For pre-dinner drinks, their signature olive oil martini is an interesting twist on a classic, and you must try one of their special Negronis (which are pre-made during the day).
As for the service, I had no issues at all. Waiting staff are casually dressed, in keeping with the laid-back neighbourhood vibe. Across the board service was pleasant and friendly with no errors of note.
The value is fair, though I’d say the snacks and side dishes are too dear for what they are.
Overall, I’m not sure I can really fault it – it just is what it is and delivers what it sets out to do. Not a gastronomic experience of course but just good, honest food.
15 Micawber Street
by J A Smith