Merry Christmas, one and all!
OK so it’s not Christmas, but a trip to the Kitchen Table was Jo’s Christmas present to me and it’s taken us until quite recently to get a Saturday that they – and we – could do. Which kind of begs the question can anything be worth that kind of wait and still survive the burden of expectation?
In a word, yes.
Very yes, in fact. It was sensational. And all the more impressive for being sustained over 16 or so courses with not a duff one amidst them.
The set-up is in the back room of Bubbledogs (a casual place serving hot dogs alongside an excellent champagne list, go figure…) with 19 (comfortable!) seats sat at a counter which encloses three sides of the kitchen. Essentially there are two sittings, staggered in time, with half the room being served at any given time.
To get a few things out of the way. The format worked. Despite the name this felt less like a “kitchen table” – that barely-tolerated add-on in the corner of the kitchen used to mark up a few more customers – and more like the kind of experience you might get at a traditional Japanese sushi counter with the same sense of, and opportunity for, personal interaction with the team, all of whom were charming. Including the Head Chef, James Knappett, who was passionate, welcoming, engaged and leading what is clearly a confident and friendly team.
The same goes for “front of house”. (not that you can really have front of house when everyone is in the kitchen, but anyway…) Attentive and informed. They have a good list (and exemplary when it comes to champagne) but, given the format of the menu, the wine pairing is the way to go. Especially here because they do a lot of improvisation with it, varying the wines over the course of the sittings, just to try out new things and keep their own interest and enthusiasm fresh in a way which rubs off on customers and feels spontaneous.
It was genuinely fascinating to see the kitchen working. It bore as much resemblance in its control and neatness to my own chaotic dinner party prep as a Formula 1 garage does to Dave the Local Mechanic. This flows through the style of cooking to, which is all about precision and control. Meticulous preparation and presentation.
In fact, it was this kind of meticulous presentation, combined with the small plates approach, and long waiting list that had us worried. Often that presentational obsession (which is characteristic of “small plates”) is indicative of a style over substance approach. Not here. The point of it all – the food – was absolutely spot on. Whilst some of it was very sophisticated – the duck with black sesame, for instance – what really impressed was the way that the simple was also lifted to the sublime. A blob of taramasalata was simply mind-blowing (I could have cancelled the rest of the meal and just had a bucket of that) and served with a brioche-style bun that was so ethereally light it could only have been cooked with helium. Even the cube of fudge to finish off the meal was perfectly positioned in texture half way between “chewy fudge” and “tablet”.
For course, after course this continued at an exceptional level. Composition of menu, execution, pacing of both food and wine – all were spot on.
My meal of the year so far.