I AM partial to the notion that the capital is suddenly starting to push up proper restaurant roots, tucked away down small corners, on side streets, in otherwise impossible spaces. Sardine has largely been hidden from view behind the big MacDonald’s on City Road and surrounded by scaffolding for most of its short life. It predates the political party in Italy, but feels not dissimilar by way of a gastronomic huddle manned by a small crew who are not rapacious with their prices or their vision. It is a local, like you find in Paris, where the staff talk to you. There is a line of tables for two, a big communal table and an open plan kitchen in what I might guess to be 1500 sq feet or so. If you got 40 people in it would overheat what is an industrial, tall ceilinged, should-have-been-an-office space.
You get the signature cured sardines for £4.50, you get a perfect canapé of almost Melba thin sourdough covered with wilted fennel and a touch of chilli and tomoato for free.
Ribollitto comes as a bowl to start which may not be all Tuscan grandmother’s brodo but it is beans, brassicas and bread all right.
The accent is really a little more towards Provencal – purple sprouting with egg and crumbs, Jesus de Lyon sausage sliced thinly over remoulade. A big pork chop that that looks like it might have been plated on more beans, but it is different subtler mix.
At the back of the kitchen there is a medieval style metal contraption that lowers meats down into a hole in the floor inhabited by the wood-fired oven. Sharing nights tend to favour using this for whole chicken, or leg of lamb.They have choucroute nights.
To finish nougat ice cream comes with a long fennel encrusted biscuit.
The head chef is Alex James and business partner pop up maestro Stevie Parle.
After so many decades of chefs following the money (and Michelin); of so much venture capital décor, of mummified chains, here is a personable restaurant, run by real people who enjoy cooking and work within a sensible culinary dictat and don’t have to charge major money. More of these please, boys. No I don’t mean that, stay where you are, don’t do Sardine two or three or four please.