Ask for Janice

Opposite Smithfields Market, Ask for Janice is an all-day haunt, serving everything from legendary crumpets in the a.m. (which I learn the chef can now prepare vegan, with a bit of advance notice) to gins in the p.m.  Surprisingly, there’s no one actually called Janice here, a name which definitely has matriarchal undertones.  Rather, this place is named after a rather obscure instrumental Beasite Boys track – don’t ask me why.  Though Janice is missing, you’re still very well looked after here – the staff are super friendly, welcoming and guide you through the menu very well.

Indoors, this place has a Brooklyn-esque vibe with a mishmash of vintage classroom chairs and tables, polaroid snaps, a worn, tanned leather sofa and a mixed crowd of laptop-tapping, cocktail-sipping folk.  Exposed beams structure the ceiling and hippy-ish artworks, including a Berber rug, adorn the walls.  In keeping with their welcoming spirit, our reservation holder on the table was marked by my name written in the paper of a radio cassette – proper old school.  Whilst it’s hard to do stripped back industrial well these days, because every other eatery seems to be trying to emulate this tired look, Ask for Janice do so perfectly, effortlessly and vibrantly –  retaining their individual identity, without all the negative connotations that have come to be associated with this popular look.

Onto the menus, Ask for Janice are primarily known as a gin bar: they stock 42 different types of gin, including big names and smaller producers, alongside a choice of tonics and a huge selection of garnishes.  If that’s a bit daunting, the staff know their gin very well and can recommend flavour pairings for you.  This evening, though, my companion and I went for a couple of cocktails, which definitely shouldn’t be overlooked here.  My AFJ Bellini (£9), a mix of spiced and poached plums with prosecco, was full of wintery spice notes, whilst my companion’s Burnt Daquiri (£9) was an ingenious vegan take on this classic: rum, chargrilled lime sherbet, angostura bitters and the miraculous / millennial aquafaba.  The chickpea water gave the drink a foamy topping, whilst the finish was wonderfully smokey.

Onto the food, the menu is split between bar, small, sharing and large plates.  It has an impressive choice, which seemed to have a Middle Eastern theme tonight, and they’re health conscious, without being “clean-eating” and everything-free crazy.  Given the excellent selection of vegetarian dishes, we were keen to try a bit of everything and so shared a few dishes.  To start, we couldn’t resist the Labneh (£4.50), served with smoked sea salt dukkah and Mr Chaudhry’s warm flatbread (£1.80).  It was totally irresistible.  This thick, strained yoghurt had a brilliant tang to it and the seeds and nuts atop were packed full of flavour and crunch.  The gentle bite of the sumac spiced pumpkin seeds offset the creamy yogurt beneath effortlessly well.  We each kept returning for spoons of the dip, even once our plates proper arrived.

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If you’re vegetarian, I’d also recommended Mr Chaudhry’s flatbread pizza and up tonight, we enjoyed a vegan one with courgette and black garlic.  The topping felt like it had been created for me and paired very well with the moreish labneh.  Though no pide, it’s a good idea and an easy way to showcase seasonal, locally sourced and flavoursome ingredients.

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The special of the dish was also right up our street: roasted potatoes served with sundried tomatoes, greens and best of all, babaganoush, the dish continued the Middle Eastern vibes of the evening very well.  I felt like I was back in Israel.  Full of textures and layers, each bite felt like a party in the mouth.  There’s a lot of creativity going on here.

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Our final dish was the Carrot fritters, with watercress and orange salad (£6.50).  These were sublime: plump, well-cooked and packed with, yes, Israeli flavours, the dish had a great bite to it – especially so with the flaked almonds scattered on top.  It was also served with a very generous carrot hummus dip above each fritter– so much so, I was eating the stuff by the spoon.

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All in all, Ask for Janice has an easy, relaxed and intimate vibe – perfect for a catch-up with a friend or, we decided, a second date.  Whilst it’s a pity there’s no one called Janice taking care of things, it’s effortlessly brilliant, cool and relaxed – laid back chic in its purest form.

Ask for Janice, 50-52 Long Ln, London EC1A 9EJ

Website: http://askforjanice.co.uk

Rating: *****

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