French elegance meets Italian simplicity at Belsize Park restaurant Melange
PUBLISHED: 11:14 16 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:09 27 March 2018
Melange, with locations in Barnet and Crouch End, has opened a third in Belsize Park. Here co-owner Justina Markauskaite talks about removing the borders between cuisines and why they put family at the centre of everything they do
What is French/Italian cuisine to you?
French cuisine really pushes the elegance, and focuses on the neatness of the dishes. You eat with your eyes. If it looks good, you have a high expectation.
Italian food to me can be summed up as ‘well-crafted simplicity’. You bring together quality ingredients, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. Here at Melange we try and take from the best of both.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Melange is a family-owned affair; my sister, her husband, his brother and I work across the three sites. We live and travel together, and share a lot of the same passions in food and drink.
The flavours on the menu try to remind you of holidays and home comforts. The south of France is my favourite place to visit – I love the promenade, the white restaurants, the wine culture, chilled rose on the beach...We’ve started doing a new breakfast inspired by that. It’s similar to the beautiful buffets you get at the hotels in the morning. Lot of options – sharing boards for four people, that kind of thing.
The four of us also cook a lot at home and eat together every Sunday; we love roasts, lamb in particular.
If we’re trying to find something for the menu we cook it at home and see if the presentation would work.
What’s the thinking behind your wine menu?
There’s only French and Italian wines on there. A lot of people are quite surprised by the quality of French malbecs. On the international stage Argentina has become famous for their malbecs, but we have a Grand Malbec from Languedoc, which is phenomenal.
Not many people know the story behind it, because they are so used to ones from South America. It’s medium-bodied, quite fruity, and definitely has different characteristics because it comes from the colder European climate.
We work closely with some of the producers. We’ve been out to visit their vineyards, or they’ve come out here to visit us.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Cheese boards. I love good mature goats cheese, brie and a nice glass of port. I think that’s why there’s so much cheese on the menu!
What is your background in the business?
The four of us all did our fair share of working in restaurants. Our head chef used to work for Marco Pierre White at Mirabelle in Mayfair, and I worked in quite a few restaurants in central London front of house.
How do you stay relevant?
I go out for meals a lot. You need to keep up with the London restaurant scene. I enjoy seeing how other people are doing things so we can improve our offering. There’s a lot we can learn from other restaurants, and bring back some ideas to our kitchens.
I think there’s a trend towards going back to basics, but that’s why I absolutely love London; you don’t know what’s coming next.
You head into Camden for example and you can sample 100s of different cuisines. This year it’s been bubble waffles, next year, who knows!
Why Belsize Park?
Being part of a community is important to us. We prefer not to be too central; we want returning customers where we’ll make relationships and get to know people.
Hampstead is also just 15 minutes walk away as well - I enjoy going to the little bakeries and restaurants when I get the chance, which isn’t too often as the restaurants keep me busy.
How has the local community taken to Melange?
Pleased to say we’ve already got some regulars. There’s a lot of chains here, so I think that’s why people have been so supportive of us.
They tell us that we’re what the area is really missing. When it’s a family business, you care a bit more about what’s going on around you.