Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine
Sub meets liminal
With top-notch food and even that perennial Hull favourite, a pattie butty, J Johnsons is as good as it gets, writes Dave Lee.
Johnsons had been open barely a year when the pandemic hit. Word-of-mouth was good, trade was passable and things were progressing as well as anybody could hope.
Then the brakes went on, and owners Jason Gittins, Dan Robinson and Chris Eastaugh had to decide what to do during the long months of lockdown. Rather than move into offering takeaways, they decided to work on the elements of the restaurant they didn’t feel were quite right. It was a brave move but it’s paid off in spades.
They’ve changed things I hadn’t noticed weren’t right, like the floor, the handrails and the location of the kitchen. They also made a very astute decision to entirely rethink the downstairs offering. The upstairs room remains possibly the best dining space in Hull and is still dedicated to the swanky Chophouse menu. Downstairs, though, had previously felt a bit undefined. Neither bar nor dining space, what pretentious people might label “liminal”. It now has a New York-inspired deli menu and this has transformed it into a space for a post-work pint or a hideaway to drag out lunches until it’s time for a post-work pint.
When me and a pal stopped in for lunch, chef Chris Dickinson (better known as Sketch) very obligingly offered to make us dishes from either menu. I reckon that, if you ask nicely enough, he might just let you do the same.
Two dishes from the small plates menu that are definitely recommended are polenta fries with beef ragu and pecorino and the kedgeree croquette. Beef stew and cheesy chips are always going to be good but here the polenta adds texture, the pecorino adds sharpness and the ragu is so rich that it adds a whole world of flavour.
The kedgeree croquette is a nice take on either kedgeree or arancini, depending on which way you look at it. A creamy kedgeree encased in a crispy croquette, served on a mango and lime mayonnaise with a very attractive pickled egg turned purple by the addition of beetroot. A great result of sideways chefy thinking. The egg may be pickled, but it’s also perfectly soft and oozy in the middle and the almond flakes in the crust provide a simple, subtle extra flavour. Even if you’re not a fan of kedgeree, I’d implore you to give it a spin.
This being Hull, there is a pattie butty on the menu. These can sometimes suffer when served anywhere but a chippy but not this one. It is a perfect example of the finest local dish on the planet. Even the addition of leeks and some ketchup – both of which seem designed to irk the purists – cannot ruin the traditional simplicity of fried mashed tatty in a bread cake.
A big chunk of the deli menu is taken up with sandwiches. Hardly gourmet stuff, you may think, but these are focaccias so stuffed with loveliness that you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to Manhattan. The pastrami Reubens is superb, the Tyrol (speck, fig chutney, red onions and dolcelatte) is both earthy and sweet and the Roma porchetta – which I had – is outrageously good. Boneless, rolled, slow-roasted pork, smoked mozzarella, roasted peppers, arugula and aioli in a bursting-at-the-seams focaccia pocket that is impossible to eat without redecorating your face. Honestly, it’s worth popping into J Johnsons for a sarnie alone. You could fill yourself with half of one and save the rest for a midnight snack.
Of the main dishes, both the tandoorstyle half chicken and the wasabi crumbed cod loin are well worth the investment.
The chicken has a distinctly Indian feel but is still subtle enough to work as a great Sunday lunch. And the chicken is moist. Fall apart moist.
Similarly, the wasabi crumb on the cod loin is strong enough to let you know it’s there but subtle enough to allow the cod to take centre stage. A juicy chunk of loin sat on a bed of pak choi, asparagus tips, noodles and a creamy coconut sauce.
There are desserts available, mainly traditional crème brûlée and sticky toffee pudding type affairs. They’re perfectly good but the paucity of options suggests that not many people are expected to reach the pudding stage, so filling are the previous dishes.
It took hours to eat everything. We were forced to sit and indulge and imbibe until we were both bursting, exhausted and spent. It was as ace as it sounds. Little have I missed more this last 18 months than a long lunch with great grub, tall tales and slightly too much booze. J Johnsons provides the perfect location for postpandemic splurges at highly reasonable rates. I’m going to have to round up more pals to catch up with.
■ J Johnsons 59 Humber Street, Hull, HU1 1TH. Tel: 01482 326167. www. jjohnsons.com. Open: Thursday to Saturday, 12-11pm; Sunday, 12-5pm.
You could fill yourself with half of one and save the rest for a midnight snack.