I wouldn't go as far as to call myself a tapas-phobe more a small plate-sceptic. After all I had just returned from China where I had marvellous meal with plentiful & bountiful dishes for us all to share. However the key attribute of the Chinese meal is that there is lots of it, you all get to share and apart from when my brother is around everyone gets a spring roll. Though I enjoy a bit of tapas it always strikes me as shared food for the selfish with the added frisson that the restaurant never give you enough to share. Also apart from crisps and olives I'm not much of a snacker, give me a 3 square meals a day and I'm a happy but portly boy. I had tried the small plate thing at Polpo and been less than impressed, yet another Soho joint where a convivial ambience masked suspect food. Anyway as it turned out I was destined to give this genre another try for my lovely wife's big birthday meal. We had actually had a lovely lunchtime party for her at our local favourite Kensington Place. A lovely airy restaurant with friendly staff who have always made us and baby G feel very welcome. My brother and his wife had also invited us out that evening but suggested a light meal and drinks after the three courses at lunch. They had been to The Shed previously and suggested as fulfilling our brief. I cycle past it every day so was intrigued to see what it was all about.
The site it occupies is just up from the Mall Tavern, it used to be an Italian called the Ark and previous to that was Jean Claude Novelli place. It’s a sort of converted summer house, definitely more 'Shed' than 'Ark'. You enter through a tiny courtyard with seating and rugs for the hardy smokers into a tiny bar area. However despite the cosiness our coats are taken which is quite grown up. We are then shown round the corner into the long dining room. We have a nice corner table but pretty uncomfortable seats. They do tell us they need the table back in 2 hours, however I haven’t a problem with this if the food follows quickly and service is sharp which I must say it is here. They explain the concept to us, sharing plates, all produce from their own farm etc… It talked a good game but did it deliver? Well I have to say it did.
We were waiting a bit for my brother and ordered some hummus, which was taken to another level by the sweet tasting root vegetable we had dip in it (we think it was a sort of radish) , more hits followed with roast pork shoulder served in lettuce leaves, the wonderful venison Bolognese and a very tasty lamb dish. There were some misses as well we were talked into trying a very dull plaice dish and their bread is really nothing to get excited about. If I had a general criticism about these small plates it was that everything was very freshly and intensely flavoured which is good but you do need something else with it to tone it down. We had a sprout salad with ours but we needed more sides like that. Ultimately this is why I prefer a traditional plate of food as they have a more balanced taste. We came for a snack but the food, drink and company were so convivial that we ate more than planned. I was a bit full for a dessert so we shared a couple between 4. I really enjoyed the chocolate orange tort it had great taste and texture but the star was the salted caramel vienetta which had the girls in quite a clamour. Drinks were also good, we started with a concoction called a loosener which was very invigorating, had some pretty good wine and I had a couple of warming apple brandies post dinner.
Come Nine o'clock they needed the table back, it was busy all through the night, but they found us a tiny table in the bar where we stayed for drinks. Clientele was a mixture of oldies like us early on to be replaced by a younger hipper crowd later in the evening. Service was very friendly, a good mixture of posh Tim's and other ranks who knew what they were doing. We had a nice time, it felt more Kensington than Notting Hill in that it looked a professional operation. Perhaps they could do without all the crazy farmyard stuff on the walls, invest in some comfy seats and let the food do the talking. It is also very Kensington in terms of value nearly £300 between 4 which is going some. More special occasion which this was than casual dining. However it did show me that small plates can be done well and I would certainly return.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Food 8 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 7