If you have to ask, Ask for Janice!


A seasonal winner for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.


If one decides to name one's delightfully hip eatery and bar after a Beastie Boys track, then it stands to reason 'Fight for the Right' may be a tad too aggressive, 'Licensed to Ill' isn't the most appetising proposition, 'Sabotage' doesn't exactly sound like it will last the course and 'Intergalactic' is altogether too 'sci-fi' to marry well with down-to-earth foraged ingredients meeting a retro hip graffiti design aesthetic. Now if you had a bar that literally only served drinks and did not also offer an imaginative and delicious food menu then 'The Mix-Up' or 'Check Your Head' might be suitably fitting names - but if one's going to name one's altogether snazzy food and drink establishment after a Beastie Boys song, then the eleven seconds long number from "Paul's Boutique" 'Ask for Janice' sounds like the way to go.

Yet another fun offering from Urban Leisure Group - the same restaurateurs behind Central & Co, The Gallery, Graphic, Elgin and the two NW6 Alice Houses - it's fair to say these folks know what they're doing when it comes to creating characterful and creative local bars and restaurants. Located a short stroll along Long Lane (see what we did there?) and around the East side of Smithfield Market, not far from Barbican underground station, Ask for Janice is that rare find which manages to combine a friendly local vibe with English retro comfort food and hip artistic aesthetics - oh and lets not forget the range of thirty six Gins behind the bar.

Whilst not necessarily 'romantic' in the traditional sense, Ask for Janice is definitely winning when it comes to capturing a contemporary, slightly gritty industrial feel; yet with enough softer touches to keep things warm and fun - there's cool art on the walls and a cool crowd inside, listening to cool music - yes it's all very cool - but thankfully the sort of inclusive and welcoming 'coolness' where one's happy to be, rather than somewhere everyone is just way too cool-for-school.

Unlike some lesser establishments that delusionally think the key to a successful atmosphere is drowning out a lack of imagination with music that's altogether too loud and too naff- Ask for Janice manages to capture a relaxed sociable level - where we can have a conversation and actually hear each other whilst sharing plates with friends. Social dining is positively encouraged here with an excellent selection of bold, seasonal food.


Now, the very idea of sourcing seasonal foraged food in the bustling urban metropolis that is London, may seem far fetched; but Head Chef Nik Prescott - whose previous experience includes Hix and is the youngest Head Chef in the group - is something of an expert forager; so thankfully - unlike some famous restaurants charging exorbitant prices for their foraged fare - Ask for Janice has mains ranging from £6.50 to £10.50 and sides at £3 or £4 - you won't need a second mortgage to eat here. While you're there, why not continue the theme of seasonal foraging by hunting for the original Damien Hurst piece?

Seasonal dishes included Wild Garlic fries - Wild Garlic flowers - which have all too short a season - are picked in Stoke Newington, pickled and flash fried in Tempura batter. We're not completely clear where precisely picking becomes foraging but we're sure about the end results, which are crispy, long and delicious!

Wild Garlic Flowers - Actual Before and After
Shaved raw asparagus from Portwood Farm together with char-grilled whole asparagus and foraged finds from Brockley (as in the Saaaf London SE4 borough, rather than a misspelt vegetable!) offers a taste and texture contrast to Feta and hazelnuts.

Other dishes on the menu when we visited included Monk's Beard and Nettle dumplings - which sounds even hipper than a checked shirt on a bearded lady with sleeve tattoos. 

Cod cheeks which were once regarded as something fishmongers might discard, are now fashionable, perfect in size for "sharing dishes", have an ideal texture and are mouth watering when braised with fennel and lemon.

This beef dish with crumbly cheese contains "Worksop Blue" which is a young rind off-cut with a connection to Alex James of "Blur" bass playing fame, (or at least that's what we thought we heard because by then we had sampled a few too many of their Gins) - the cheese is reminiscent of and sounding like the one which rhymes with "Hilton" ... anyway it gave the flank steak a welcome salty wallop!

Ask for Janice clearly mean business when they suggest they're an ideal spot for all times of the day.

It would be rather churlish not to allow time for their locally smoked salmon - or in-house cured treacle bacon and free range eggs. We've mentioned that Ask for Janice is hip - without being part of the Shoreditch flotsam and jetsam - so it's no surprise the coffee here comes from the Coleman Coffee Roasters.

For those far too busy city types with no time for breakfast - you could Ask Janice for one of her Cross Town doughnuts like the one pictured below teasingly being offered to a rather hungry looking fashion model - or try one of her freshly baked finger buns and warm crumpets ... we'll leave it to you to insert a suitably 'oo er missus' Carry On punchline here. 

The secret to any enjoyable eating out experience is the people and in turn, the restaurateur's art is a somewhat opaque mix of attentiveness, space, friendliness and professionalism. These are non food ingredients which are not easy to balance perfectly - in this respect we were especially impressed by the rather excellent Vicki who took the time to tell us all about Ask for Janice.

When I complimented her on her excellent front of house manner Vicki  explained "I've worked with chefs before, they're around heat and sharp knives - got to be careful".

In fact it's also thanks to Vicki that we discovered the superb Whitley Neil Gin which we covered in detail in our previous piece. Given the extensive range of Gins on offer at Ask for Janice we asked Vicki to recommend an interesting Gin we could use as a base to create a new Martini - after initially suggesting Warner Edwards, towards the end of the evening Vicki returned saying she'd given it more thought and Whitley Neill was the one we should try. That's the sort of attention that goes a long way - combined with an extremely friendly and likeable personality

The downstairs area at Ask for Janice feels like a good ol' fashioned speak easy, and in addition to enjoying the bar, can be hired as an ideal space for an event or function - bringing the total capacity to around 150 covers. We're told many a lost soul has gotten confused on the way down because of the 'now you see it, now you don't' hidden bricked door that seems to be part of the wall.

The 'trompe-l'oeil' door leads to a veritable Gin palace offering over 36 different Gins, many from local London distilleries and around 60 beers, including a good selection from local breweries although we were somewhat too tipsy to count exactly.

Aside from the individual Gins and beers Ask for Janice offers a range of creatively concocted cocktails that are sure to please and amuse.

The "3 Minute Rule" is created from Sipsmith's Sloe and London Dry Gins, Lemon Juice, Mint and Cranberries.

Invisible Man Gin is essentially a 'Manhattan' but with Bootlegger light grain instead of dark spirit.

There's plenty of engaging art on the walls with some particularly poignant graffiti on offer.
We especially enjoyed this piece of graffiti as we left Ask for Janice. 


Getting back to the food, we thought it was extremely artful but not flashy - rather like our photograph below - this particular piece is evocative of a Dutch 17th Century still life oil painting - we used no flash photography for our non flashy food - pretty as a picture and far more delicious.

For those of us who grew-up listening to the Beastie Boys fighting for their right to party it's fun to think hip hop's pretenders may have evolved into some sort of classic act- we can well imagine browsing in Paul's Boutique in Brooklyn and upon enquiring where this season's altogether scintillating and hip collection came from, being told "if you have to ask, Ask for Janice".

You Might Also Like