am old enough (alas, not very old) to remember when salmon was not a status food. If anything it was the lazy choice of millions of grandmothers who plonked the leaping pesce on green beans, shoved it in pastry, placed licks of lemon on top or fried the solitary fillet – and waited for the muted applause.
That all changed in the sushi revolution that commenced with the noughties and had Britons acknowledging translucent slices of salmon were now worth the sum of annual pay packets – if placed on vinegared rice, accompanied by dabs of green horseradish and chopped in open kitchens.
This sensible pricing scheme has been justified in recent years by the fact that the number of fish that exist has been reduced to approximately ten, four of which are suicidal in glass bowls and have names. But people still want salmon, and Salmontini – as you may have guessed from the name – is here to cater for those who can afford the fish in its non-cat food form.
Reversing the trend of British public schools (whose little outposts survive on the last puffs of a global elite buying into ‘colonial cool’), Salmontini is a Middle Eastern export that isn’t a fossil fuel or anger, which is odd because I don’t think anybody associates salmon with the Levant. It’d be a little like discovering Scotland was the world’s biggest exporter of coffee beans.
The restaurant sits where The Palm used to offer ‘all American’ and all over-priced steaks on Pont Street. The head chef, Spanish-born Esteve Prats Grau (previously of Tom’s Kitchen) has gone for the opposite approach: simple food at sensible prices. This is reflected in the space, which although pale and grey, manages to make the leather, wood and steel feel respectable and chic rather than sanitised and medical
The service doesn’t blow your socks off but it can at least be accurately described as a very strong breeze around the elastic. My dreary day is assaulted by a happy chappy who moves around our table like Louie Spence on the dance floor, delivering salmon’s greatest hits with aplomb.
My favourite dish by far is the Californian maki rolls, but most items on the menu have a signature style that will doubtlessly prove popular. They mix crisp and soft textures and fresh and zingy sauces with refined presentation. This is such a successful combination that I am unusually disappointed when the black cod arrives. Where is the oleaginous swimmer with its peachy pink hues that tastes so self-righteously clean and morally good?
And that’s ultimately why salmon sells isn’t it, it looks clean – it’s a purgative food. We eat it for the same reason we eat Special K in the morning. Not because it tastes like the cupboard smells, but because it makes us feel how like the lady in the red swimsuit from the advert pretends to. Go to Salmontini for catharsis, there’s not many restaurants you can say that about.
1 Pont Street, Belgravia, London, SW1X 9EJ
020 7118 1999 (salmontini.com)