Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker Bowles and reader Debbie Edgar compare notes on Notting Hill Kitchen.
Tom Parker Bowles is aTV presenter and food writer. His book, Let’s Eat is on sale now.
Debbie Edgaris the global process owner for Thomson Reuters, London, and eats out at least once a month. Her favourite type of cuisine is Asian fusion and her guilty pleasure is cherry chocolate liqueurs.
Luis Baena is the award-winning chef behind Notting Hill Kitchen, which has taken over the site of the former Notting Hill Brasserie.The restaurant is a modern take on Portuguese and Spanish cuisine, serving pesticos, the Portuguese version of tapas, as well as starters, mains and desserts.The interior is airy and elegant and a wine rack takes up an entire side wall.The split-level space is kitted out in beech wood, the tables are adorned with blue-and-white tile placemats and there is also a Seville-style standing bar. The menu focuses on produce from small Portuguese and Spanish producers and serves a variety of seafood as well as showcasing the Spanish and Portuguese love affair with the black Iberian pig.
The first person I saw, within seconds of stepping inside the door, was my friend Richard Weiss, brilliant sommelier, restaurateur and Alsatian par excellence. Although he doesn’t own the restaurant, I knew I was in safe hands. And sure enough, all sorts of wonderful wines started to appear. Service was slick, although the dining room was all but empty on a Tuesday afternoon. The waiters were all Portuguese and well acquainted with the menu.
We were warmly welcomed by a member of the bar team and we chose to have a drink at the bar first.The wine we picked was not available and an alternative, A Coroa Godello Valdeorras, from Spain was suggested – a real find and a nice change from sauvignon blanc. Our waitress answered our menu questions confidently and without hesitation. Although we were offered bottled water, tap water was provided on request.
There’s little doubt there’s serious talent in the kitchen. Luis Baena is a star in his homeland and combines technical skill with a healthy culinary imagination. A couple of suckling pig empanadas saw sweet, thyme-scented meat encased in golden, just-crunchy pastry. Salt cod fishcakes were less thrilling, erring towards the bland. More salt was needed, just as it was in the otherwise-wonderful combination of bone marrow spread on small rounds of fried bread and covered in slices of exquisite Pata Negra ham. The whole thing was magnificently rich and fatty, but ruined by the addition of truffle oil.Why? It was extraneous, irksome and entirely unnecessary. More tissue paper-thin slices of Joselito Pata Negra ham were served at room temperature, as they should be, that glorious fat coating the tongue. An octopus and black bean salad was the perfect combination of texture and taste, just like the tiny broad beans with chorizo and sheep’s milk butter. It was one of the best starters I’ve had this year. A main of ox and veal cheeks was a true winter bruiser of a dish. It had the requisite moo and heft – and a wonderfully soft texture too – but cried out for a little acidity to cut through all that fat. But octopus confit with new potatoes was sublime – two great tentacles cooked, then fried, so they had a crisp coating.Truly magnificent. Pudding saw a deconstruction of the classic pasteis de bata where the custard sat between a millefeuille-like creation. It worked.
I started with the octopus and black bean salad which had very little flavour and, to my taste, an unpleasant, almost jelly-like consistency. My husband chose the Pata Negra five-year-cured Joselito ham which was the best either of us had ever tasted – strong, but subtle, with an almost creamy finish.The bread selection was served with truffled egg yolk, sheep’s butter and a very good Spanish olive oil. Main-course options were divided into sea and land, from which we chose the pan-fried pink swordfish, smoked with Azores tea and served with carolino rice, and slow-roasted, milk-fed lamb shoulder, burunia, sautéed vegetables and potato.While the lamb was full of flavour and tender, it was a fairly uninteresting dish and the swordfish risotto was the better choice.The rice (cooked with seaweed) was pale green, which I hadn’t expected. It was not overly creamy and even had a bit of spicy heat, which was a perfect match for the pink swordfish.We chose to stay with the A Coroa wine and were not offered any other suggestions. For dessert, the chocolate terrine was the best choice.The chocolate was not too rich and a hazelnut wafer within the terrine gave a nice crunch. I would point out that there were limited options on the menu for vegetarians.
the bottom line
Food was mainly impressive and two dishes – the broad beans and confit octopus – really stood out. A heavier hand was needed with the seasoning, but service was proper and passionate, and Richard Weiss is one of the greatest front men in the business. Despite all this, I wouldn’t go back. For all the chef ’s skill, the place lacked those most elusive ingredients of all: heart and soul.
FOOD 7/10; ATMOSPHERE 3/10; SERVICE 9/10; TOM’S TOTAL: 19/30
The décor is stylish, atmosphere relaxed and there is a buzz in the restaurant. It is dimly lit, which makes reading the menu a challenge, and, although the food was good, it wasn’t special. The highlight for me was the staff, who were very welcoming. The prices are as you would expect for this part of London and we would return to the bar if we were in the area.
FOOD 6/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 8/10; DEBBIE’S TOTAL: 21/30
Notting Hill Kitchen Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
Notting Hill Kitchen has some commendable sourcing practices such as mostly using free range, organic meat from the UK.The menu changes according to seasonality and seafood is checked against fish sustainability lists. However, a number of dishes use species that can be considered unsustainable, depending on where and how they are caught.This, and their approach to environmental issues, has reduced their score.The restaurant has a good nose-to-tail approach, using cuts of meat that are typically underused in restaurants such as ox cheek.
Written December 2013