There’s a spot along Belsize Lane where the pavement is crowded with tables, chairs and smiles. The outdoor seating belongs to Cinder, a cosy restaurant in North London featuring dishes whose ingredients, in one way or another, have been passed through a lively flame – hence the name. The door is almost invisible, like the adjacent wall, as the space opens up to the street. Once past the threshold, though, the intimate and delightfully bright interior welcomes the guests in for what promises to be a relaxed and tasty lunch.
A pretty wide-ranging wine list accompanies the food menu, the latter categorising according to the main ingredients: veggie, raw, fish and meat options, rather than appetisers, first and second courses. Chef Jake Finn, leading the kitchen which is semi-hidden behind a shelf with open sections at the back of the room, has a background in fine dining, but sets the sophisticated trends aside to serve recipes that focus on the produce. We pick something from every group of the menu, and it turns out that the most unassuming dishes end up being the favourites.
Fresh from the oven, the Grilled Bread lands on our table, together with a confit garlic tahini and a burnt tomato salsa. Despite the temptation to start nibbling it until even the crumbs disappear, it’s a good idea to reserve some of the slices for what comes next. The Heritage Baby Tomato lies on top of aubergine tahini. The vegetables are delicious, and with the help of the aforementioned bread, we nicely mop up the runny base. The tomatoes are easily outshone, though, by the seabass ceviche. The exquisite morselfs of raw fish surf on a cucumber sauce, enriched by a whiff of coriander and a jalapeño kick.
The fish course that follows is just as gratifying. The golden skin of the Whole Sea Bream invites diners to dig in, unveil and savour the tenderly cooked bites underneath. The little mound of radish and fennel on the side definitely brings colour to the plate, but doesn’t add much in terms of flavour. The same goes for the grilled onion that comes alongside the beef sirloin – especially after already having found slices of the purple vegetable in all of the previous servings. The meat is pleasantly juicy and earthy.
A sweet and cool ending is what we are craving, so we opt for the chocolate mousse. The dessert diligently aligns with the cuisine so far, offering up a simple layering of appetising elements, and proves surprisingly refreshing yet creamy. The pudding is chocolatey at heart but remains light, finding a nice balance with the salted praline.
As we depart on a (strangely) warm September day, we are still left wondering how many people this restaurant can accommodate in winter considering the very small number of covers indoors. But the day is too good to be spoiled by thoughts of the upcoming frigid temperatures, and the area emanates a friendly neighbourhood atmosphere that can be enjoyed wherever you are sitting, whether on the brown homey sofas or on the wooden chairs facing the green avenue. Cinder is a charming little foodie spot in Hampstead, where simple plates are packed full of character.