Ask for Janice – Laid back Smithfield venue with tasty food

Helen Hudson reviews a lively new bar/restaurant on Long Lane

An evening stroll highlights how lucky we are to have so many fashionable and happening areas around the Barbican.  Thank goodness for the energy of youth recreating and reshaping our eateries and revitalizing our taste buds.

afj sign

The stylish back to basics interior at Ask for Janice is misleading.  You’d expect that this was a cut-price but cleverly cost-conscious refit.  However, the editor reminds me that the previous occupant of the space, a modernistic bar, was a smooth and relatively stylish place. And before that a noodle restaurant with a fairly conventional décor.  So this interior with its bright and brilliant scaffolding bannisters and white breezeblock walls makes you think again.

The stylist didn’t just pretty up the canvas they were given.  Every tweak away from the traditional is deliberately designed.  Enormously interesting for a left-brainer like me!

afj int

Apparently the last place didn’t survive long, but I don’t see the same quick demise for Ask for Janice.  The clientele were young career folk, by the look of things and this leads me to an aside.  I wonder if this is a winning formula for this demographic; the alternative venues are more traditional restaurants and pubs, but this is a new and exciting bar cum restaurant mix.  The volume of enthusiasm takes a few minutes to get accustomed to, and then comes the G+T.

Ask for Janice stimulates a reawakening to the possibilities of our traditional G+T.  A bit like the décor, the idea is to inject a dose of Design.  Every few weeks, the recipes are tastefully engineered with alternative gins and mixers so that there is always a new twist to look forward to.  I went with the recommended SIPSMITH with its floral meadow notes & orange marmalade (a dry gin with a zesty, citrus finish), Fevertree tonic & lemon and lime.  Just having celebrated World Gin Day in June, it is so encouraging to learn that both Sipsmith and Fevertree are manufactured here in the UK (the Sipsmith Distillery is on our doorstep in Chiswick) and enjoying wide success.  My G+T was just what the doctor ordered and not too strong for me.  My colleague went for the much stronger WHITNEY NEIL LONDON DRY.  The G+T menu is a flat £9 each but what an exploration.

afj gin

A neat menu with lots of smaller portion sizes (think large tapas) seems to be a winning formula for the owners (The Urban Leisure Group) who have 6 other established contemporary restaurants in London.  The magic is that one doesn’t have to spend a fortune on food if it is just coming up to payday, and the range of tasty choices isn’t limited by price tag which works especially well for quick (or longer) meet-ups with friends.

MENU – Small dishes

Chicken crackling (£3)

Pea Pods (£3)

Seasonal pickles (£3)

Deep fried sprats (£4.50)

Lardo on toast, peppers and pickled chilli (£4)

Stichelton, Comte and pearl barley arancini (£5.50)

Black dahl, deep fried pickled cauliflower and paneer (£6.50)

Afj food

Whipped goats curd, broad beans, heritage tomatoes and sourdough (£6)

Grilled flat peaches, parma ham and berkswell cheese (£8)

Isle of Wight tomato, blue murder and chicory (£6.50)

Chorizo, sherry and sourdough (£7.50)

Ham hock, bobby beans, mint and poached egg (£6.50)

Prawns, sorrel and green chilli (£7)

Braised beef croquettes and mustards (£6.50)

Cod cheeks, braised fennel and lemon (£7.50)

Chatsworth smoked salmon, caper berries and horseradish buttered rye (£9)

Grilled cheese sandwich and pickles (£8)

Cheeseburger – potato bun and pickle (£8)

With a SIDES menu including small salads and fries, the menu is as flexible as my Golden Lane Yogi.

The menu does have a hearty section of BIGGER THINGS.  These are more recognizable comfort-food dishes including Half a roasted corn fed chicken, fries and gravy (£13), the vegetarian option of Chargrilled courgettes, fregola, ricotta and hazlenuts (£10) and the carnivore favourite T-Bone steak, fries, smoked butter and bone marrow (£24).

afj chop

(The LUNCH menu is only slightly shorter than the EVENING menu with the addition of fresh, handmade sandwiches (from £4.30) and sweets (from £2.50) for those with a sugar craving.)

We shared and enjoyed the Deep fried sprats (£4.50), Cod cheeks, braised fennel and lemon (£7.50), Prawns, sorrel and green chilli (£7) and Grilled flat peaches, parma ham and berkswell cheese (£8).  I couldn’t choose between them for a favourite but nibbling at the various platters, rather than tucking into a traditional meal, was most satisfying for the taste buds as well as the tummy.

After the meal, the desserts are a steal at £4 and listed quaintly and efficiently on a paper-bag menu.

Our Apricots with Yoghurt and Maple Oats was served up in a very respectably sized jam jar so there was enough to share (again)!

Not forgetting that Ask for Janice is also a bar, the choice of drinks commands a menu 4 times the size of the food menu.  A fantastic spread of draft beers and bottles and a very decent range of wines most also available by the glass.

Ask for Janice is open for BREAKFAST as well and I would imagine its laid-back décor and menu style give it an innovative edge for both the coffee morning set and the working lunch crowd.

A background eclectic mix of trendy music adds to the contemporary tone, but doesn’t detract from the relaxed mood.  I’m at that age where I’ve been lying about it for several decades but I still didn’t feel out of place.

The loos are downstairs, modern and clean.  The hidden secret, also downstairs, is the secluded basement bar.  When you find it, you feel like you’ve stepped into a present-day speakeasy.  The bar is tucked away behind a wall door and I enjoyed the novelty feel of a VIP section in a nightclub.  It has a more intimate vibe than the restaurant and so convenient to have it downstairs after dinner!

Ask for Janice is at 50-52 Long Lane, EC1A 9EJ almost opposite the eastern end of Smithfield Market.  Food serving hours are: Breakfasts 8:00 – 11:45, Lunches 12:00 – 16:00, Evening 17:00 – 22:00

Reservations: info@askforjanice.co.uk or 02076002255