It’s telling that when we left one of Iberica’s soft launches a couple of weeks ago, discussion turned not to the tapas and tortilla but to the bar and the bogs. That’s not to say we ate badly – some of it was decent enough, (I’ll happily chuck a bucket of their patatas bravas down my throat again) – but the food was upstaged the moment your bladder caved and you went for a piss. (Felt too weird taking a photo in the toilet, soz.)
Course, there’s nothing wrong with a restaurant donning its Sunday best and having a swoosh of Davidoff – some of my favourite places are lookers – but it helps when someone’s had the foresight to get the food right, too.
And so, a maiden visit to The Reliance, up there in the ‘Miles Away From The Station’ Quarter.
Now here’s a place happily unhindered by such fripperies as glitz and glamour, focussing instead on the important business of dishing up a good tea. (Although somebody there did pay attention during handwriting lessons.)
Describing the bar and dining room as functional or understated could sound a bit trite, but I reckon that the lauded Sticky Walnut and, all hail, St John belong in the same bracket, and they’re both chuffing ace, so I make no apologies. And neither, I imagine, do the good people of The Reliance.
In fact a starter of lamb’s liver, spring onions and za’atar could easily be slotted into Lord Ferg of St John’s offaly canon. Here, the hummy, fleshy liver – frazzed on a griddle until just cooked – benefitted from the fresh crunch and char of grassy spring onions, and a generous dusting of that punchy spice blend lifted the lot. Spring on a plate, if it wasn’t pissing it down and if we were in the Middle East. (£6.95)
I got acquainted with that while listening to the cosy soundtrack of robust whisking, which I presumed was the preparation of a ‘citrus hollandaise’ to go with my main course of skate wing and sea vegetables. (Sorry, chef, for being that annoying bastard on a Monday teatime.)
The fish, cooked simply, required the slightest of forkings for the tender tendrils to slide away from the bone. A fistful of samphire was just yielding but retained bite, and the zippy, buttery sauce added a lemony top note. They’re good with textures, here. (£15.95)
Just as I was pondering/being a pernickety div about how I would have liked a smidge more seasoning on the fish, (bearing in mind the whole ‘sea-ness’ of the thing, this was more than likely down to my battered palate than any fault of the kitchen) I spied the salt on the table. Civilised.
There were also good, crunchy chips, and thick slabs of robust bread. Given an aversion to food waste, it seemed only right to put the remains of one between the remains of the other as a kind-of carby dessert. The Reliance is the type of place where that’s ok.