Step into Jackson + Rye and you might be entering a restaurant in New York’s Soho.
This new establishment in the London neighborhood of the same name has the energy and noise levels you might expect across the Atlantic, together with the willing service that isn’t always the British style.
Jackson + Rye is bankrolled by Richard Caring, whose Caprice Holdings Ltd. owns about a dozen restaurants, including the Ivy, J. Sheekey and Scott’s. The directors are two respected industry veterans: Mark Askew, who was executive head chef at Gordon Ramsay Holdings, and Hannah Bass, formerly of Hakkasan.
Jackson + Rye gets noisy, so it’s just as well that Ramsay isn’t there to have a quiet word when dishes aren’t up to scratch.
The menu is full of American favorites that cost less than you might expect. The wine list is accessible and considerably less boring than elsewhere. Jackson + Rye might become a chain - - or be rolled out, to use the industry parlance -- in which case, the main thing to work on is the consistency of the food.
It’s not bad at Jackson + Rye. I have paid more for worse. But it could be better without adding to the expense. This bit of the London dining market -- cool restaurants catering to 20-and 30-year-olds with as much attitude as cash -- is competitive.
Let’s focus on the good things. The wine list offers lots of choice for about 20 pounds ($33). The house red and white are each 14.50 pounds, which means a couple on a budget might dine for 50 pounds -- a bargain for London. The restaurant also has a menu for Rye whiskey, offering more than 20 varieties of the old-fashioned spicy liquor made mostly out of that grain.
It’s worth trading up to the Delicato Family Vineyards, Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, from California at 29.95 pounds. It’s spicy and smoky, yet smooth enough to drink on its own.
The most tempting starter for me was the truffled mac & cheese with rocket and parmesan (6.95 pounds), but the last time I tried it, the pasta was overcooked and the sauce thin. Squid with chipotle mayonnaise was better.
The lemon & rosemary chicken with shoestring fries and chipotle hollandaise (13.50 pounds) was fine, as was buttermilk fried chicken with spicy coleslaw and fries (11.95 pounds).
This isn’t supposed to be fancy food so it’s better just to enjoy yourself rather than to look for faults. The simple dishes are best and least expensive, so stick to options such as meatballs (9.95 pounds) or steak & eggs (13.50 pounds.) The standout dessert is pecan pie with rye ice cream.
Jackson + Rye looks as cool as you might expect from Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, whose credits include Soho House Miami and Cecconi’s West Hollywood.
The design is inspired by the spirit of a 1920’s Manhattan speakeasy and the moody sophistication of an old Brooklyn bar, Brudnizki says on his website.
The staffers at Jackson + Rye are so friendly it’s easy to have a good time without worrying too much about the finer points of the cooking. They even write their names on the paper table coverings in case you need them.
I shall return but the food alone wouldn’t bring me back.
Jackson + Rye, 56 Wardour Street, Soho, London, W1D 4JG. Information: http://www.jacksonrye.com/ or +44-20-7437-8338. Rating: 6/10.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)