Kitchen W8 - London
Back in ye olden days when Britain's culinary horizons ventured as far as spam and baked potato, restaurateurs named their establishments with French or Italian names in order to make them sound more exotic and appetizing. I mean, where would you want to eat: Pete's Place or Chez Pierre? The former would serve spam and boiled potato, the latter jambon épicé avec pomme de terre bouille. The current titular fad for restaurants in London is addresses and/or postcodes, case in point, 8 Hoxton Square, or in this case Kitchen W8. Notice that the latter employs the word "kitchen."
Did you know that there are no restaurants in London anymore? Like a Pokémon Go character, they have evolved from restaurants into bistros into kitchens. It infers authenticity and a down-to-earth/back-to-basics culinary ethos that can be distilled down to: "We cook. You eat."
That neatly sums up the truly wonderful Kitchen W8. Blessed with an enviable location in the heart of millionaire-clogged Kensington, perversely a part of London that has been a gastronomic wasteland, it serves as a functional restaurant that is neatly presented and dispenses with the frills. It eschews the glitz 'n glamour of central London's chichi restaurants like La Gavroche or The Ledbury: the interior purposefully simple on the verge of anodyne in design, so much so that I cannot remember it at all. Were there a couple of mirrors? Maybe. The warmth did not come from the décor, but from the patrons on a busy Tuesday night, mainly the well-heeled residents of W8 and those from other less salubrious postcodes whose interests were drawn in by compliments for head chef Mark Kempson. Kempson has an impressive CV, having donned his whites at The Vineyard at Stockcross and working under Philip Howard who recently parted ways with The Square. Completing the circle, Howard is now a co-owner of Kitchen W8, and a chef with two Michelin stars is not going to associate his name with a restaurant that might blemish his reputation. So it turned out.
For a starter, I ordered cured gilt head sea bream with avocado, fennel, harissa and crispy squid. This was outstanding. I had anticipated the sea bream to be served à la sashimi, but instead it was sliced into fishy ribbons. The beauty of this dish was the way that the ingredients combined both in terms of flavor and texture - the chewiness of the perfectly cooked sea bream, the softness of the ripe avocado just on the verge of discoloration, and the crispiness of the crispy squid (logically). It displayed a lightness of touch, a nuance that is sometimes lacking in menus that can overpower by virtue of their richness. I preferred this to the slow poached lobster tail with courgette, girolles, cucumber and borage, even though it was superbly presented. I confessed my indifference to lobster in my review of La Lune. At least I am consistent.
For the main, it was an obvious choice of Iberico pork with hay roasted carrots, spiced almonds, apricot and bulger wheat. Yes, yes, yes, yes and YES!
This was truly scrumptious. The pork was served a little like Japanese yakiniku in thinly cut wedges: perfectly cooked again so that the meat retained a pinkish-whitish tinge, retaining all of the meat's moisture and sweetness. The hay-roasted carrots were so delicious that I might quibble I could have done more with two. The cleverest feature was the spiced almonds that brilliantly offset the meat, adding an edginess that might otherwise have been missed. On the other side of the table was a roast rump of veal with girolles, pickled artichoke, broad beans and mint. Not quite in the premier league of the Iberico pork, yet the veal was succulent and fleshy, the girolles maybe a tad diminutive in size, but the tangy pickled artichoke and broad beans matched the veal marvelously.
We finished with raspberry Swiss Roll with raspberry ripple ice cream and lemon verbena. The miniature twirls of Swiss Roll made you giggle and sent you back to 1970s childhood when Swiss Roll was about as fancy as my family's puddings got. My daughters would describe this pudding as cute. The glazed chocolate pavé with cherries, buckwheat and vanilla was actually the right pick, the pavé slightly chilled and the cherries potent and almost overwhelming the entire dish. Again, presentation was A1.
The wine list here is not as comprehensive as it could be for a Michelin-starred restaurant, though the wines were well chosen and a majority were reasonably priced. However, there are two big plus points. First, I applaud wine lists that serve half-bottles, which is a perfect size when you want a white but not in a 750-milliliter quantity that will leave you comatose by the reds. Second is corkage. Kitchen W8 has a £20 corkage fee during weekdays, which for this part of town is very reasonable, indeed. There was no stipulation about ordering off the list, though I was happy to do so.
We commenced with a safe sparkling option of non-vintage Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve. Their Rosé is always deservedly praised, but I do love this Champagne house's whites, full of nerve and tension. The 2013 Mâcon-Davayé from Domaine des Maillettes served as a reminder that I really must get down that way soon, and it provided a well-priced alternative to the white Côte de Beaunes. I proffered my own bottle of 1970 Château Pape-Clément and it was 50/50 whether it would show well. I had not tasted it for a decade and perhaps since then, it had declined. On the contrary, I was stunned by just how much fruit was laden into this Graves - much less austere than I recollected, earthy yet beautifully balanced, almost sumptuous towards the finish. The bottle was polished off far too quickly and I would have bought another if I could. Whisper it quietly...this might be better than 1970 Haut-Brion. Finally, I bought a bottle of 2007 Château Suduiraut to remember Denis Dubourdieu who passed away that morning. Without a Doisy-Daëne in hand, I felt that he had to be toasted with a Sauternes, and though far too young, this powerful Suduiraut has a long way to go.
This was my first visit to Kitchen W8 and hopefully not my last, especially given that amazing early bird deal: a three-set menu for £25. That's a bargain, given the standard on the plate. There is a relaxed vibe here, partly thanks to the service and partly because many of the tables are filled by locals. My one criticism was that the main course followed too swiftly after the starter. This sometimes happens when you are one of the first to enter the restaurant, but even so, I loathe feeling rushed, especially when the wines cannot keep up. That complaint aside, the food was delicious, veering on the rich side, but without making you feel bloated; the use of ingredients was clever but not innovative. Kitchen W8 is a great discovery and does what restaurants should do...
We left happy.
Oh, just in case you were wondering, there is no spam on the menu.
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