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Rekindling a fine dining romance

15 February, 2019 — By Tom Moggach

Restaurant Michael Nadra’s deconstructed cheese cake is decorated with cubes, blobs, meringue shards and winter pansies

I’M not a huge fan of fine dining but some milestones deserve a special flourish. It was my aunt’s 80th birthday and Restaurant Michael Nadra in Primrose Hill is a short stroll from her flat.

It’s an unusual venue, set below street level and sandwiched between Regent’s Canal and Melrose and Morgan deli next door. Access is via a gentle ramp from Gloucester Avenue.

Once inside, there’s a gleaming cocktail bar on the left and, straight ahead, the old brick tunnels that once led to the canal. Back in the day, horses were the main travellers through this Grade II-listed space. They would trot down to start work tugging barges laden with goods.

Much of the restaurant is now encased in conservatory glass. The central courtyard, exposed to the elements, must be wonderful in the summer.

I had visited Michael Nadra once before, many years ago, and was keen to see how it’s changed.

In truth, the ambience feels much the same – a touch dated, perhaps, or pleasingly retro, depending on your point of view.

The cocktail bar majors on martinis, with more than 30 riffs on the classic drink.

We went straight to our table, sliding onto the banquette seating.

The wine list is wondrous: page after page of fine vintages and fizz, with over a dozen wines by the glass, including their own brand of white and red – just £4.90 a glass.

Flicking through the leather-bound menus, we opted to skip the six-course tasting option to order a la carte. Celeriac “scallops” were too intriguing to miss. These were a triumph – tender root veg sculpted into discs to mimic their fishy alter ego.

The chef pan fries them until caramelised, then drapes and decorates the celeriac with clever textures and flavours: micro-planed slivers of crunchy cauliflower, fronds of watercress, a scattering of fried quinoa.

Our other starter was quite the opposite: soft, meaty and decadent. Slow-cooked Iberico pig cheek paired with morcilla on a bed of buttery chick pea purée, cut through with a racy sherry vinaigrette.

For a main, my aunt tackled a huge lamb shank, which fell off the bone.

Later, we navigated a giant plate of deconstructed cheese cake, decorated with cubes, blobs, meringue shards and winter pansies.

I can’t fault the quality of the cooking here. The team also works hard to offer special deals and good value: two-for-one cocktails every evening from 4-6pm, for example, and an Express Menu at lunchtime and early evening when starters cost £6.50 and main courses just £12.50.

The atmosphere, however, could do with some thought. The place was far from full and we dined to a soundtrack of generic electronic muzak – almost anything else (jazz? classical?) would be a vast improvement.

Still, all credit to Michael Nadra for keeping standards so high while other, once-cherished, local haunts are closing (RIP L’Absinthe). This talented chef has many loyal fans – if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Restaurant Michael Nadra
42 Gloucester Avenue, NW1
020 7722 2800
www.restaurant-michaelnadra.co.uk

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