Double Dragon, 84 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4QY (020 7683 0326). Lunch £ 7- £ 13, all dishes £ 5- £ 14.50, desserts £ 8, wines from £ 23

In the 1970s, my late mother, Claire, became a regular at a restaurant called Thomas De Quincey’s in Covent Garden. It was named after the 19th-century essayist who had written his most famous work, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, while living in the same building. If an editor or publisher needed schmoozing she lunched them there, and talked breathlessly afterwards about the ethereally light quenelles of pike mousse they served, but she never took me. I understood Thomas De Quincey’s to be a part of the glamorous adult world to which I had not yet been granted access.

A couple of years ago, I ate for the first time at Angela Hartnett’s lovely Café Murano and realized that it occupies the same building at 36 Tavistock Street as Thomas De Quincey’s used to. As a diehard atheist I cannot use the language of ghosts. There is no afterlife. But there was something delightful about sitting in a dining room once occupied so often by my mother. Rooms can ring sweetly with silent echoes.

‘Texturally, it’s a joy’: salmon sashimi ‘pizza’. Photograph: Sophia Evans / The Observer

Before it was Café Murano it was a branch of Sofra, for in big cities buildings often retain their essential purpose across decades. In the mid-19th century, for example, 160 Piccadilly, now home to the Wolseley, was a grand restaurant called the Wellington, where they served consommé au naturel, whitebait and pouding à la d’Orsay.

Which brings me to 84 Rosebery Avenue in London’s Clerkenwell, not far from where this newspaper’s offices were once located. It has been a series of pizzerias in recent years and before that was a Chez Gérard, which served me very serviceable steak frites. Long before that it was, like so many of London’s great dining rooms, a bank; their underlying architecture suits the modern business of tables, chairs and food. The buildings stay the same. Only the restaurants change.

'Well made': tuna maki rolls.
‘Well made’: tuna maki rolls. Photograph: Sophia Evans / The Observer

And so I return once more to 84 Rosebery Avenue, which now has the words Double Dragon affixed above the door in bright red neon. Perhaps it’s a reference to the Japanese-made video game, featuring martial arts masters Billy and Jimmy Lee fighting their way through a dystopian New York. I’m not certain, but don’t investigate the term on urbandictionary.com, unless you have a strong constitution; the definitions run from the deeply scatological to the profoundly rude. Either way, it’s described as an extended pop-up that might well become permanent, and belongs to Australian chef Scott Hallsworth. He was once head chef at Nobu London before going it alone with his particularly raucous brand of Asian-inspired, miso-slicked, ponzu-dribbled crowd-pleasing boom and blast. He opened Kurobuta, before selling up and opening Freak Scene. That closed during the pandemic. The website describes this new venture as an izakaya, serving food to go with drinks. I can attest that the food goes very well with drinks.

The menu on the current website is lengthy. There’s an enticing section of wood-fired dishes, utilizing the oven left behind by the pizzerias. A little disappointingly, the menu currently on offer is shorter and feels like edited highlights. Shame. I very much liked the sound of the kombu roasted sea bass with spicy shiso ponzu, and the wood-fired jumbo prawns with spicy lemon dressing.

'Perfectly cooked': roasted scallops.
‘Perfectly cooked’: roasted scallops. Photograph: Sophia Evans / The Observer

That said, all the things they are serving very much do the Hallsworth jazz hands thing of parading on to the table and slapping you repeatedly about the chops. When I last ate his food at Kurobuta I whined that, however much I liked his cooking, it was expensive. This iteration is much better value. There’s also a pleasing restlessness to it. We start with a generous £ 5 dish of Padrón peppers, roasted in the wood-fired oven, sprinkled with sesame seeds and swamped with a mustard miso and lemon dressing. Padrón peppers in gravy: this should always be a thing.

The nasu dengaku, or aubergine grilled with a miso glaze, is as good here as I recall it from Kurobuta and comes with the added joy of a candied walnut rubble. Be sure to order the crisp glazed pork belly, in soft folds of doughy bun, with the sticky soy and peanut sauce and house pickles. The fanciest dish is a couple of perfectly cooked, glazed scallops with a yuzu truffle sauce. It’s a hollandaise that’s been on its travels. One observation: it is hard to eat a whole scallop with chopsticks while looking elegant. Perhaps they could slice them in two. Or I could abandon the redundant notion of elegance.

'Does the job': cheesecake.
‘Does the job’: cheesecake. Photograph: Sophia Evans / The Observer

In an echo of his Nobu days, but at a fraction of the price, there’s a salmon sashimi “pizza” for £ 10.50, served on a disc of golden, bubbled cracker with truffle-ponzu and wasabi fish roe. Texturally, it’s a joy, but at first lacks sprightliness. No matter; after last week’s buttered hispi cabbage, here is the great brassica scorched once again in big leaves with an invigorating ponzu, beurre noisette and dried miso dressing. A few drops of that on the salmon sashimi and it comes alive. We also use it as a dipping sauce for well-made spicy tuna maki rolls. These are described as “roulette” because one has been spiked with a seriously hot sauce. It comes with a shot of cucumber sake for whoever pulls the gastronomic trigger. This is of, course, very silly but, like so much here, it’s also an awful lot of fun.

There are just two desserts: a chocolate mousse with a coconut ice-cream and a cheesecake with blueberries and a Speculoos crumb. Both are served in glasses and amount to the same idea: creamy things piled on top of each other. They do the job. You can have a look at my pictures of these dishes on Instagram where I am @ jayrayner1, but be aware that serious effort was required to make them work. The cream-colored dining room with its open kitchen is bathed at night in a neon electric purple light which drains out colors. The iPhone torch had to be pushed into service to get a reasonable shot. Expect to see a lot of those torches on display here, because if ever food was made for social media this is it. For once, I mean that in a good way. Not every restaurant has to be profound. Not every restaurant has to be classy. Sometimes it can just be a great night out. Double Dragon has turned what was once home to many a sedate restaurant, into exactly that.

News bites

Industry body UKHospitality has called for the expansion of pavement licenses, a feature of the pandemic, to be made permanent. The scheme, which was introduced last April and is due to expire in September, enabled restaurants to maintain their business despite restrictions introduced to stop the spread of Covid-19. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the group, points out that the program, helped by caps on application fees, has driven innovation and revenue for a sector sorely in need of help, and has also invigorated city centers.

A 2016 semi-finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals has been hired to head up the kitchen of a new bar and brasserie in Harrogate. Josh Whitehead, formerly the executive chef at the Harewood Estate in Leeds, has put together a menu celebrating ‘exceptional British produce’ for the 180-cover restaurant, located on Cheltenham Crescent. It will open later this month, visit samsonsrestaurant.com.

In an attempt to bolster its lunchtime trade, Pizza Express has launched a range of what they are calling ‘pizza wraps’ which, with their cardboard packaging, look much like a savory version of a McDonald’s apple pie. The products, which are just under 600 calories each, come in five versions echoing the chain’s classic pizzas, including the American Hot, the Padana and the Pollo ad Astra. Currently they are available for take away and delivery and cost £ 9.50 with a salad. At pizzaexpress.com.

Email Jay at jay.rayner@observer.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @ jayrayner1

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.