Snaps + Rye is a Nordic-themed restaurant and delicatessen on the Golborne Road, at the shabby and thrilling edges of Notting Hill, just north of the Westway, a road I uncomplicatedly love, probably because it takes me from Notting Hill to places I like better. Notting Hill fell to gentrification long ago — it gasps with boredom — but here London feels like a real city, though only just. ‘This home is not a shop,’ says a sign in a nearby window, with as much feeling as signage can muster. Or should muster. ‘Nothing is for sale.’
It is a bitter time for restaurants and those who love them. Nearby, the exquisite Ledbury has already closed, as if it knows something we don’t, disproving Gordon Ramsay’s idiotic claim that pandemic will sweep through the world, cleansing poor restaurants from our sight — alongside the fat, the sick and very old — in a kind of Hitlerian-themed eugenics programme, but for restaurants. I do not know if Gordon Ramsay’s Pub & Grill near Caesars Palace is a better restaurant than the Ledbury, but I would doubt it.
Meanwhile they cling on, some busy with government subsidy from Monday to Wednesday, which some call socialist chicken in a basket, hoping for recovery. One such is Snaps + Rye, which I review at random because it is the sort of place that should survive Ramsay’s righteous plague: what greater pleasure can be had than finding authentic Nordic food on an idle London street? Isn’t that the purpose of a great 21st-century city? Joyful and spurious variety?
It sits in a parade, opposite a ludicrous cashmere and linen clothing shop — some spurious variety is less pleasing than others — which exists, I think, to persuade local women they are on a Greek island of their imaginings, rather than sheltering under the Westway in a London heatwave, which makes me wonder why they don’t just waive the cashmere and spend the £300 on travelling to Greece. Either side are Zayane (Moroccan) and Falafel King, a marvellously named shack.
Inside, it is a clean Valhalla: white walls; pale floors; an immense and glassy bar glinting with snaps, which is a spirit to take your head off, and a speciality here. There is liquorice-root snaps and elderflower snaps; green walnut snaps and cool cucumber snaps. They serve a Bloody Viking — dill-flavoured snaps with tomato juice — open Nordic sandwiches and much herring. They serve a full Danish [breakfast]: rye bread fried in smoked butter; Riberhus cheese; an egg; pickled mushrooms; bacon; liquorice syrup; hogs pudding; spinach; tomato; Bloody Viking ketchup. That phrasing is not whimsy. There is a wildness to this food that is transporting: dining as travel. To find it here is remarkable; but it takes pandemic, when you are fearful of loss, to make this explicit. London still has a wealth of food; and it is, on the whole, better than its food for the wealthy.
The few tables are scattered ragtag, arranged for social distancing — a phrase I have come to hate — yet touching. The desire to squeeze food into people — food they do not need, glorious food — during pandemic is touching. It exposes hospitality as something more than professionalism or avarice: here, in places like this, it is something deeply felt. I doubt Ramsay’s Pub & Grill near Caesars Palace labours under this emotional largesse.
Here, then, is a perfect meatball of veal and beef, almost crazily flavoured; it departs swiftly, leaving you breathless for another. Here is a Danish hotdog, the sausage thick and peppery. Here is a perfect cheesecake: soft yellow like a sunrise, both light and dense, a marvellous consolation, and I do marvel at it. I doubt New York City has a better one. I know Las Vegas doesn’t.
Snaps + Rye, 93 Golborne Rd, London W10 5NL, tel: 020 8964 3004.