Monday, 9 November 2009

Eating on the Dock of the Bay

I didn't really fancy going anywhere special this weekend. Partly down to an occasional reflex pullback on spending after a period of higher consumption, and partly down to the anticipation of a costly Christmas season.I have eaten out at new places an unusual amount in recent weeks and a period of quiet contemplation seemed to be in order this weekend. However, I woke up with a hangover on Saturday after too many drinks at my erstwhile local (formerly the Marylebone Tup, now irritatingly just called "The Marylebone"), and was in the need of some soul food.

We dismissed the usual places as I was in a difficult mood, and instead decided to visit the all new Dock Kitchen, down at the end of Ladbroke Grove. Situated in "Portobello Docks", a very open urban space for designers and other people to showcase their stuff, the café is annexed off from the end of the furniture showroom. And it is very deconstructed. The guys behind the place are former River Café-ers, Stevie and Joe (I think Joe may still be at the River Café), and they have brought with them all of the skill, but none of the prices. The whole place actually feels like a pared down River Café. The kitchen is open, and possibly the calmest kitchen you have ever seen. The place is not so much bright, as an actual greenhouse (on this sunny November day, with fragile head, I felt like a was being slow cooked) and there is water of sorts to add further calming influence. The place feels less like a café or restaurant and more like you have wandered into the house of somebody much cooler than you. There were a few families who all seemed to know each other, one or two celebrity foodies with their kids – foodie kids are always instantly recognisable by their casual nonchalance at complex ingredients which might frighten or baffle a less educated diner: “mum, pass that okra down when you’re done with it, and you must have some of this brill, if you’ll forgive me the obvious pun” and so on.

We got there with breakfast or brunch in mind, and with no set menu, the waiter generously said that the chef could knock us up a bacon sandwich, or some muesli with pomegranate (how they roll round here), or some toast. Loving their laid back approach, and seizing the initiative whilst she was on the phone, I ordered everything. Then I realised that they were doing a lunch menu in half an hour so unordered everything apart from the toast (the hangover hadn't gone anywhere).

The lunch menu was simple and great. Three starters, three mains, five puddings. And a leafy clementine for 40p thrown on the end (I had two - they were amazing - they came from Italy, so I was quite pleased with the pricing). And from chatting to the waiter (quite matey by now), we worked out that they cook what they feel like cooking. Seasonal, bit of French, bit of Italian, bit of Indian. When I asked what sort of food they were going to do, the answers made me feel like I'd been strait-jacketed into society. I rued giving myself away as mainstream so early.

We shared starters of chickpeas and lentils in a broth with chorizo, morcilla and chilli, and deep fried okra, cauliflower and curry leaves. They were simple, flavourful and great. I stuck my flag in the broth, her the deep fried stuff, and we happily enjoyed "sharing". The broth was nicely flavoured and spiced, with generous chunks of chorizo in it. It was the sort of dish you wouldn’t really order as it doesn’t jump off the menu, but the lack of choice was my gain, as it was warming and hearty. The deep fried okra and cauliflower was light and mustardy (I think there were actually mustard seeds in the batter), and lacked any of the grease you might normally associate with food like this.

For main course, we shared pheasant and rabbit biryani, with spiced rice, pomegranate and yoghurt and this too was excellent. “Deconstructed”, like everything else here, but working perfectly together. The rice was delicate, the sauce well balanced and the bird and bunny worked well together. This was the soul food that I sought. It seemed expensive at £14 but the quality of the ingredients was high, and the starters were cheap (a fiver) so I thought fair enough.

All of the puddings sounded great (Italian Clementine granite, lemon poppy seed cake, medjoul dates) but we went for the quince tart with damson and vanilla ice cream (two puddings which we intelligently combined into one). The tart was a little too pared down for my liking – essentially cooked fruit dusted with short crust pastry but the ice cream diverted my attention with predictable ease.

This was a good meal in a great space at decent prices (about fifteen quid each). The chef knows his stuff (and his suppliers) and I suspect this might grow into something a little bigger and a little more formulaic. Get there soon before anything changes too much.

The Dock Kitchen 

Portobello Docks

344/342 Ladbroke Grove

0208 962 1610.

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