Tel: +44 (0)20 7288 0954
Address: 88 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 0NP
Cuisine Type: French
There is something about going to expensive restaurants, from the starched linen and pristine place settings to the little implement the waiters use to sweep up the breadcrumbs, that feels so luxuriant The problem with posh restaurants is that you can feel constrained by your surroundings – talking in hushed tones, using knife and fork to daintily cut up your food into bite-sized portions that can be popped precisely into the mouth, holding wine glasses and coffee cups with little finger sticking out at 90 degrees to the rest of your hand (okay, maybe not that constrained). I tend to reserve the posh eateries for special occasions (particularly when The Bloke is taking me), when you almost want that reverential atmosphere and would be disappointed if it were otherwise.
Tartuf is the antithesis of this kind of genteel dining. Bare wooden floors, tables and chairs give the room a rustic appeal, the main concession to modernity being the box cheese-graters used as quirky lamp-shades. The speciality is tartes flambees, a type of French pizza from the Alsace region. The dough is rolled out thinly, spread with french yogurt and onion, then sprinkled with a variety of toppings. Served on wooden boards, the easiest way of eating them is to roll slices up by hand. They are designed to be shared and, being quick and simple to prepare, are ordered one after the other to avoid food going cold. Which is great, as I always want to try what everyone else has ordered. And it makes Tartuf an ideal place to come with a group of friends, particularly as they also serve beer and a range of wines and, weather permitting, have a couple of outside tables.
And the tartes taste good. Combinations such as spinach, mushroom and emmental, goats cheese and honey or chives, blue cheese and walnuts, smoked fish and ground pepper, or chicken breast and peppers for the savoury toppings, and banana and chocolate, Alsatian plum and cinnamon, or Morello cherry for the sweet. Monthly specials are also worth a punt.
Prices are cheap – savoury tartes range between £5-7 each, half-sized sweet tartes around £3-4. Set lunch of any combination of sweet and savoury is £4.90 weekdays, £5.90 weekends, plus eat all you can for £10.90 per person – which may be worth going for, as you can eat a surprising amount when waitresses just keep coming back to take your next order.