Wednesday, 30 September 2015
Tongue & Brisket, Chancery Lane
One of the handier aspects of writing about a place with a short menu is that I don't have to feel guilty about passing judgment after only trying one or two dishes. Not that I often feel guilty about passing judgment on a place after only trying one or two dishes of course (it would be a pretty thin blog otherwise), but I just feel marginally more confident about the whole thing when those one or two dishes constitute 90% of the menu. Writing about, for example, burger bars or ramen joints is very straightforward - ramen good? Good restaurant. Ramen bad? Bad restaurant. Easy.
In an ideal world and with an unlimited budget, though, repeat visits would be made even if just to try the same item again for consistency. On my first trip to Tongue & Brisket, the salt beef was dry and dense, with odd lumps of gristle and a distinctly amateurish chewiness. The bread was good and I enjoyed the (albeit room temperature) fish balls but I was in no hurry to go back given there are 2 other salt beef places on Leather Lane alone after my custom.
But thanks to a couple of people telling me I must have been unlucky, I did go back, and on a second visit my salt beef on rye was pretty much perfect - moist, firm without being chewy, not too salty or too lean, a supreme example and for a very reasonable amount of money. Not Brick Lane Beigel Bake cheap, obviously, but not Brass Rail Selfridge's expensive either, a happy middle ground of £7.20 for plenty of the good stuff and some proper fresh rye bread. I'd have preferred they used French's instead of the strong English mustard but I'm probably on my own on this, at least in this part of town where a steady line of East End boys and black cab drivers queued up from midday for their hot sandwiches. I didn't see any of them ordering French's.
I went back one more time, just to make sure. This time, I went for tongue, which had the same clever way with the brining but a slightly less well-defined and mushier texture; not completely unpleasant but just not quite as bouncy as the salt beef. Still a great flavour though and good salt levels. The house pickles had, if anything, improved even more, nailing the sugar/salt/vinegar balance expertly and was a very generous portion for your £1.
Which just goes to show you that no matter how many times you tell yourself that it shouldn't ever really be possible to order badly in a good restaurant, and that 99% of the time one visit is all you really need, and all that most people make anyway before making up their own minds, a repeat visit can, on occasion, have its place. On my most recent visit to Tongue & Brisket, on a whim I tried their chicken noodle soup. It was absolutely beautiful, with a good, deep flavour of proper chicken stock made with real care and attention, a fine chicken consommé that wouldn't be out of place in any posh restaurant. And it had taken three visits to even realise they sold it. There's probably a lesson in there somewhere.