|Sweetcorn risotto with summer truffle|
"Damsons, James told us, are particularly rare and we were lucky that he had managed to get hold of some. Unfortunately for him, I had spread damson jam on my toast that morning for breakfast and told him so..."
I am not usually one to muse on the morals of eating out and whether it is perverse to spend a hundred pounds a head on something as transitory as dinner. However, a recent trip to Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs prompted me to rethink things.
Is it really acceptable to spend £186 on a meal for one? Even if that meal did consist of a gin and tonic, 13 courses of food, a ten pound supplement for a generous shaving of truffle, an equal share in three bottles of wine and a whisky, it's a lot of money.
For the same amount of cash I could have bought seven goats from Oxfam and still had a tenner for a kebab, chips and can of coke; I could also have guaranteed safe water for a 150 people; or even built three bogs and fixed two wells.
I'm not going to make poverty history by forgoing dinner. So I suppose I should just shut-up before I find myself in pseud's corner and count myself lucky I don't need someone to fix my bog for a Christmas present.
All of this is a round about way to introduce the fact that I went for a tremendously expensive dinner last Tuesday night at Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs. The occasion was loosely connected to my birthday, which was the previous day and partly justifies the expense I suppose. I was in the company of ski buddy Jake and Jake's buddy Matty for the evening though and that was priceless.
If you recall a previous post I thought Bubbledogs was pretty awful: an endless queue to eat mediocre hotdogs washed down with expensive booze is not my idea of fun. However, there is a second string to the Bubbledogs bow and this comes in the form of Kitchen Table.
The Kitchen Table is accessed through a heavy leather curtain at the back of Bubbledogs. Instead of finding Narnia, beyond the curtain you will find a high counter that surrounds on three sides a professional kitchen. Seated at the counter you shoot the breeze with your friends or loved ones, while watching the chefs hard work in the kitchen in front of you and eating the fruits of their labours.
This is the work of James Kanppet, who, with his wife Sandia owns Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table. More importantly James learned his craft in some of the best kitchens around: the Ledbury, Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley and Per Se in New York. James then, is a serious chef.
Let me make no bones about it either, this was a serious meal. Every item of food placed in front of us had been cooked and plated with an intense precision by James and his two young sous chefs.
None of the food we ate was hugely innovative in terms of combinations of ingredients or new flavours and some plates were certainly better than others. However, it was all incredibly well crafted and immaculately cooked. James's opening gambit, a pearl barley crisp with some exquisite raw Cornish shrimp and whipped the butter was archetypal of that.
After a couple of other small tasters - smoked salmon with creme fraiche and chicken skin with marscapone and bacon jam - the meal proper started with a scallop with ginger mayonnaise and smoked roe, and crab with purple sprouting broccoli and crumbs.
The crab was the stand out here: a single piece of purple sprouting broccoli was laid on top of the brown crab meat, topped with the white meat and some crisp crumbs (I think they were panko but can't remember). Jake thought it "bloody good"!
In contrast, the crab's follow up act, sole with lobster sauce, radicchio and redcurrant, was the evening's least successful dish. The sole was under-seasoned and tasted rather anaemic, while the redcurrant seemed a rather odd addition: their tannic acidity offered little to complement the rest of the ingredients.
Fortunately though, this was followed up by the chef's tour de force: a creamed corn risotto with truffle. A plate of food that was historic by anyone's standards. Admittedly, the supplementary ten quid's worth of truffle has the capacity to soften any rough edges, but the combination of the corn, creamy risotto, parmesan and truffle was enough to send the three of us into raptures.
Next was a loin of roe deer with a vol au vent of caramelised onion, fig, cobnuts and a little 'shepherd's pie' of braised, minced vension and a parsnip puree topping. All of which was very good, but probably no better than you would have expected it to be in this context. My only complaint was with the cobnuts, which tasted too raw and green to complement the richly flavoured venison, pastry and caramelised onion.
|Venison, fig, vol-au-vent of caramelised onion and cobnuts|
Onwards then to dessert, with a quick pit stop in the Pacific North West for piece of Oregon blue cheese and damson puree. Damsons, James told us, are particularly rare and we were lucky that he had managed to get hold of some. Unfortunately for him, I had spread damson jam on my toast that morning for breakfast and told him so.
For dessert, James et al knocked up roasted pineapple with yoghurt and mint; raspberries with a sort of oaty granola and double cream; beetroot cake, beetroot sorbet and liquorice and buttermilk sorbet; and something I have written down in my notes as chocolate crunch surprise.
The pineapple and raspberries were lovely and fresh tasting, but I've knocked up almost as tasty dishes at home. The pineapple and mint was redolent of a Jamie Oliver recipe for pineapple carpaccio with mint sugar and the raspberries were rather like my staple dessert of raspberry, Greek yoghurt and crushed amaretti.
The beetroot plate was well crafted, but I found the whole thing a little too earthy and challenging at the end of such a long meal. It would have benefitted from a dark chocolate rather than liquorice sorbet to lend a softer edge. The chocolate did arrive though, in the form a bonbon on a plinth. I can't remember much about it aside from the fact it was good - not quite Paul A Young good, but definitely better than Thorntons good.
Not content to stuff ourselves, we washed the food down with a river of quality wine. A Volnay (Red Burgundy); another Pinot Noir from Martinborough in New Zealand, which allowed the oenophiles among us to discuss the merits of old versus new world style Pinot Noir; and a delicious sweet Chenin Blanc from the Loire.
What do you think then? Was the aforementioned marathon dinner worth the £186 (£88 on food and the rest on booze and service) I paid for it? Throughout the meal the cooking was immaculate - there wasn't a grain of salt out of place - but it didn't quite knock my socks off. The only dishes that really stand out are the crab and broccoli and the sweetcorn risotto, the risotto especially so. That isn't to criticise the rest of the dishes though, which were all well crafted, showed how the use of different textures can really enhance your mouthful and most importantly of all, tasted good.
While I won't be rushing back (the wallet won't allow it), I wouldn't have any qualms about recommending dinner at Kitchen Table. If you can stump up the cash of course. The experience of dining in the kitchen and watching the chefs at work was worth an extra couple of quid and without the drink, you might even say £78 for 13 courses is decent value?
I went for dinner to Jason Atherton's flagship restaurant Pollen Street Social a couple of months ago: a restaurant that is among the top ten in the UK according to the latest Good Food Guide. This, as far as his pricing goes anyway, is the level that James is aspiring to at Kitchen Table. I'd say he isn't quite there yet though. At the top of his class and pushing for promotion, but still just about in the second tier.
Kitchen Table, 70 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4QG
0207 637 7770
Open for dinner only - Tuesday to Saturday
Set menu is £78 a head