Situated on Islington’s chain restaurant infested Upper Street lays the House of Wolf. The name itself sets it apart – a lone bar-come-restaurant-come-events-venue that sells itself as a “multi-functional, multi-sensory pleasure palace” – a pretentious claim perhaps but one that’s not too far from the truth.
On the ground floor sits a bar open to the public but upstairs lays a secret drinking den and ‘experimental’ food restaurant which hosts a different pop-up each month.
We visited the House of Wolf on a Friday November night, where the restaurant was playing host to contemporary food company, Blanch & Shock. Approaching the venue, the bar on the ground floor looked in full swing – just as you’d expect for an Upper Street bar on the cusp of the weekend. However, as we had a reservation for the first floor restaurant, we were swiftly ushered through a side door straight up to our dining room and able to bypass the crowds of drinkers and dancers below.
The restaurant room is small and intimate, and with only around six tables and dark furnishings it’s cosy and feels somewhat secret. Blanch & Shock are essentially a food design studio and catering company, so the fact that they were the guest creators of the menu made the experience all the more exclusive.
The six-course tasting menu takes you on a gastronomic journey of some of the UK’s best ingredients, producers and farmers. Everything from the water you drink with the bread, to where exactly each ingredient has been sourced from has been thought about. It may sound showy but it works and it certainly turns a simple meal out into a whole foodie experience.
Beginning with wholegrain bread paired with coriander infused water, we moved on to the more adventurous starter of raw prawn with British lardo and hogweed. Beautifully styled with an abundance of unusual yet perfect paired flavours, one course down and we were impressed.
The middle three courses were more meaty and a little heavier but presented in delightfully compact portions to ensure you cleared each plate and savoured every last mouthful. First up was wild seabass with Isle of Bute dulce, purple oxalis leaf and chervil root – a trio of flavours that perfectly married those of the sea and of the soil.
This was followed by our favourite of the six courses, mallard duck with chestnuts, hawberies, Jerusalem artichoke and melliot. With a wonderfully warm, autumnal taste it was nutty, rich and incredibly tender and gave a classic duck dish a modern twist.
Beef with fermented turnips, dandelions and an oyster emulsion followed. The dry-aged cuts can change depending on what the chefs can source; our beef was a little tough but dishes are expected to vary slightly from day to day. This dish was paired with the ‘House Black ‘n’ Tan’ – a Belgian ale, Guinness, spice and honey mix in a Borrower-sized, mini pint glass and enhanced the hearty flavours.
Dinner was topped off with a dessert made up of apple textures, sourdough brioche and buttered black tea. After five courses it was definitely a struggle to fit it in but far too tempting not to.
Post dinner, guests are encouraged to retire to the House of Wolf’s drinking den. With an old-fashioned apothecary unit behind the bar and a secret den hidden behind a bookcase, the first floor bar is without a doubt The Wolf’s pièce de résistance. With a small menu of ‘experimental’ cocktails from the Wood Blood Vial (served in a vial you can wear round your neck) to Over the Pop served with tiny bowels of popping candy and popcorn; these cocktails are as bonkers as they are potent. The American poet, Ogden Nash once said, “candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,” which I think sums up the attitude of House of Wolf perfectly.
Needless to say the Blanch & Shock pop-up menu should be approached with an open mind and fussy eaters should probably steer clear. Sadly it’s only setting up home in The House throughout November but it’ll be interesting to see who sets up next month and what weird and wonderful delights they have to offer.
In the meantime, we’ll be returning for the cocktails at least.
The Blanch & Shock Dining Experience at House of Wolf was priced at £45 per person. A pairing drink selection mixed by the House of Wolf bar team costs an additional £25 per person.
House of Wolf, 181 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1 RQ Tel. 0207 2881470