“It takes all sorts to make a world.” – Badger, The Wind in the Willows.
It’s essentially my job to meet people and talk about food and restaurants (hard life, I know) and I have never had the same conversation twice. Whether discussing tastiest cuisines, best chefs, most memorable meals, top places to treat your brother/mother/lover, what you’d have for your last meal if you were on death row – people choose very differently but feel just as strongly about their choices. It’s what makes both what I do for a living – and being a food lover in London in general – so varied, surprising and interesting.
This thought struck me following my visit to Kitchen Table with Chris Pople, aka Cheese & Biscuits. His write up of the evening is excellent; he clearly describes the stunning tasting menu and explains his conflicting feelings of discomfort at witnessing a tense moment between the staff.
Yet my own impression of the evening is almost completely different – amazing that we were companions dining next to each other, who ate the same food and shared a bottle of champagne.
I visited Bubbledogs towards the end of 2012 and was disappointed by the execution of the exciting sounding junk-food-meets-posh-booze concept. I thought it could be an instant favourite and it just wasn’t; although I had fun with a great group of people that evening, the food did not live up to its hype (stale buns, gimmicky toppings, small portions and high prices did not fill me with joy). The champagne was top notch but, frankly, of course it would be. I would go again if a friend insisted but honestly I would rather visit dear Abe’s Big Apple Hot Dogs stall with a bottle of Bolly stuffed in my handbag.
Kitchen Table, then, was a second chance to fall in love with the goings-on at number 70, Charlotte St. And throughout the procession of thirteen artfully prepared dishes, I did – head over heels.
We took our seats at the small table (actually the pass) around the kitchen at the back of the restaurant. The industrial metal had been covered by a carefully folded tablecloth taped to its top, as if it had been decided on a whim that it would be a wheeze to invite punters behind the scenes.
The hand-written menu was a shopping list of January’s best ingredients. We started with “Razor Clam” served raw with cucumber, fresh horseradish, and a vivid green mint oil: lovely clean and cleansing flavours.
Then came “Sea Bass”: belly cured in fennel salt, with the skin charred by a quick blast with a blowtorch over wood-coal. Because the flesh remained raw its texture was surprisingly chubby and chewy, which contrasted pleasantly with the fennel marmalade topping.
Next up was “Chicken”, a slab of glossy, crisp crackling smeared with rosemary mascarpone and topped with chunky bacon jam. A holy trinity of transfats and the stuff of dreams. I spared a thought for the poor Bubbledogs lot on the other side of the leather curtain making do with tater tots.
I’m going to do my best to recreate “Kale” at home – such a good idea. The tight, frizzy structure of the single raw kale leaf was an inspired vehicle for a creamy, salty parmesan and anchovy dressing. Very pretty too – a snowy woodland scene decorated with delicate shavings of pickled radish.
The wood smoke came out again for “Cod”: fresh cods’ roe with light gnocchi and crunchy, nutty slivers of raw chestnut – impressive.
I’m a bit of an allium freak so the “Calçot” dish would always have been a highlight – the stunning almond-studded romesco sauce on the side ensured it was. They could sell that stuff in jars and make a fortune.
There were no dud courses but my least favourite dish of the evening was “Duck” – wild mallard was tasty but I craved more texture than you get from sous-vide cooking method. I love the flavours of chard, blood orange and olives individually, but they didn’t thrill together.
“Venison” vied with the calçot dish for best of the night – an eight month old Roebuck shot by chef James Knappett’s pal and served with beautifully roasted cauliflower, chickweed, yoghurt and damson sauce.
Extra venison was made into a rich ragu, topped with a smoked egg yolk and covered with a thin sheet of pasta and a sprinkling of tarragon panko breadcrumbs for the “Pasta” dish. I could eat this every day, especially in winter.
“Stichelton” indicated the fun was going to be over soon as we neared the end of the menu. The cheese was served with linseed biscuits, wafer thin curls of champagne-compressed (of course) green apple and a sweet, spiky apple & mustard jam.
For the “Mango” course, a garish plastic pink contraption was brought out for shaving ice (I was reminded of a childhood Mr Frosty). Alphonso mango puree (frozen when in season) was combined with jelly-like young coconut and yoghurt ice cream. The chef joked that the spoon was carved from unicorn horn – cute.
The penultimate “Lemon” dish let James Knappett tell how he transported a suitcase full of Maya lemon peelings from his father-in-law’s Californian tree to make the dish. No flavour was lost in transit. We finished with a shiny “Tunnocks teacake” served on its own mini pedestal: a crisp chocolate shell with a gooey rhubarb centre.
So in all, I was delighted by Kitchen Table and the theatre provided by the interactive open kitchen format. I thought the staff were charming, talented and approachable. Maybe I’m more nosy than average and enjoy watching skilled professionals busy creating sensational dishes in full view; maybe I have a thicker skin that can deflect uncomfortable moments; maybe I was simply so engrossed in whichever fabulous dish was in front of me to notice or be particularly bothered by any shouty bits.
Either way, the parade of plate after plate of stellar food I enjoyed at Kitchen Table will be what I will remember and rave about.
Thirteen courses – lucky (for some) indeed!
(Cost: £68 per person for the tasting menu. With drinks we paid just over £100 per head.)