You cannot judge a book by its cover. Standing on Charlotte Street, staring at the front of the published address for Kitchen Table, all that stands out is red neon signage for Bubbledogs, a flashy new casual spot, showcasing the classic pairing of hot dogs and small production champagne. Oh wait, what? Hots dogs and champagne? Add to that sides of tater tots and sweet potato fries and you have a harmonious marriage of flavours, as natural as ice cream and mustard.
The seemingly bizarre concept has struck a cord with hip, young Londoners apparently, as queues form every night for seats and the operators have been approached about taking the concept to other cities, including New York. Go past the queue and the mobbed skinny jeans scene of Bubbledogs though and you are whisked away to the tranquil, relaxed atmosphere of Kitchen Table, a 12 course tasting menu only restaurant from Chef James Knappett, located in the back room of Bubbledogs which feels more like a million miles away.
The space itself is counter seating only, 19 seats total allotted for each night, situated around the open kitchen. All eyes are pointed towards the gleaming stainless steel kitchen and the black granite island where all the plating is conducted. The menu, both online and written on a blackboard next to the kitchen, is the definition of simple. The courses are listed solely by the main ingredient and use only one word. Pig. Chicken. Cod. Milk. Mango. Essentially the opposite of a TGI Fridays. Luckily, the Chef explains each dishes components when they are presented and is very open about the sourcing and seasonality of the ingredients.
Our night began with Pig. By Pig, they meant pork cracklings (fried pork skin), dusted in shrimp powder and served with a brown crab aioli. Essentially a play on a British classic, the prawn cracker. Only with fried pork skin. So therefore better. Cod appeared next, a ball of choux dough filled with salted cod roe purée, packing a big salty punch. Our third course, Chicken, consisted of crispy chicken skin, topped with mascarpone and bacon jam. This jam was literally my jam. The skin, a vessel to hold bacon, is fat-on-fat genius. This was truly a highlight and in the running for bite of the year.
Since Kitchen Table is located in the back of Bubbledogs, you can expect a strong champagne presence on the wine list and you would be correct. No Veuve or Dom on this list. The bottle prices started at around £40 and went up from and there and they also offered a wine pairing. We skipped the pairing and decided to stick with the ‘by the glass’ selection, which ranged from £6-10 for 125ml pour and had four options for both red and white.
The service throughout the night was relaxed but professional and they offered advice on potential pairings for upcoming dishes, all without being too pushy or trying to upsell too hard. We both moved from white to red, sampling a Riesling from Nahe, a brightly floral Viognier from Loire Valley, a bright bold Hungarian red blend and a delicious Syrah from Cote du Rhone, all served at the proper temperature and correct glassware. I appreciate that.
As the night moved along, the dishes kept coming. Scallop (our least favourite), Mullet, Broccoli, Venison. The mullet and broccoli were both strong courses. The wild garlic on the mullet was foraged that day by the Chef from a secret location in London that he would not divulge, despite repeated questioning by eager guests. The broccoli (pictured above) was charred on the grill and served with a smoked egg yolk hollandaise, and was a true display of simplicity yielding strong flavour. Duck (below) was the stunner of the night, with a medley of fennel preparations and pickled plums.
The kitchen went about at a very controlled pace throughout the night . It provided a calm, relaxing environment in which to spend 3 hours eating 12 courses. There was no yelling, in fact, almost no noise, and a lot of interaction between the Chef and his customers. The relaxed environment clearly hides the intensity of the Chef though, as he personally oversaw the plating of each dish and every surface was wiped down immediately after each course. Any extra unnecessary noise by his staff resulted in a quick glance. I guess that as a guest in his kitchen, that attention to detail is appreciated and needed. No one wants to dine in a dirty kitchen where the staff are clanking pots and pans.
Our savory courses ended with a plate of hot, runny, French unpasteurized cheese topped with slices of very expensive black foot Iberico ham, honeycomb and roasted peanuts. How could that not be good? The unexpected star of the night was one of our sweet courses. Mango (above) was served in a frozen glass, filled with coconut gelee, yogurt sorbet, crushed ice and a mound of mashed mango with lime zest. It was perfect. The coconut flavour was bright and the gelee was stiff, which provided a great textural contrast along with the crusted ice. The lime zest with the mango and yogurt sorbet was brilliant, and did not allow the dish to stray to far sweet or savoury. Blood Orange (also above) was no slouch either, consisting of fresh blood orange, dried blood orange and blood orange powder, topped with crazy shards of meringue. Great texture and acidity with the correct balance of sweet.
We ended the night with the digestives, which they have in a wooden crate. We sampled their home made liquor, a elderberry vodka that utilized fruit picked at the height of their sweetness last summer, then fermented in vodka with a touch of lemon juice and simple syrup to provide a sweet note. A great way to end the evening.
We both enjoyed the meal and will certainly be a restaurant highlight for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this experience did not come cheap, as we spent £250 including drinks and service charge. Would I do it again? Absolutely. The service was friendly, engaging and professional, the food was well conceived and executed and the space is fun and different from most stodgy high-end dining rooms. Everyone needs to splurge at some point on something, and I choose restaurants. The Kitchen Table was worth my £250 and I would gladly spend that much again. But maybe not again this week. I need to allow our bank account to recover.