The Saucy Dressings’ chief correspondent was recently lucky enough to get taken to Kitchen Table, more of an eating venue, than a restaurant in the traditional sense, where chef James Knappett and his team offers a tasting menu based on British traditions and ingredients. One of the key characteristics is that diners sit around the chefs as they work, and interaction – demonstrations, questions, explanations, smiles – is encouraged. It all makes for a very special culinary evening.
Below she describes what she saw, and what she savoured.
It’s not often that someone treats you on their birthday, but apparently this is a Dutch tradition. As my boyfriend is Dutch, I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end when he took a fancy to having dinner at Kitchen Table in London. This sought-after restaurant is not only hard to find, but also almost impossible to book.
The restaurant seats about 20 in a U shaped bar format around the kitchen where the team of chefs are at work. It is hidden behind a curtained entrance in the back room of an unassuming restaurant called Bubbledogs – the type of place where they have condiments on the tables.
We were offered a delicious-sounding cocktail to kick of the evening, but quickly realised that the wine pairing menu we had opted for (selected by Sandia Chang, wife of chef-patron James Knappett) would be more than enough for the evening and cancelled our cocktails. It was a 12 course meal exquisitely paired with six different wines. There’s no choice involved you just get what’s on the menu that evening. The premise of Kitchen Table is always to serve the freshest ingredients, which means that their menu is constantly changing and dependent on what is available that day.
Each dish is introduced by the chef, James Knappet. Sandia had to refer to the menu notes when we asked her to remind us what was in a particular dish. She explained that this was because, although the chef writes the menu the night before and shares it with the team, many of the entries are left blank until the chef can see what the fishermen bring in that day. We were spoilt that evening with an enormous 3kg squid thinly sliced and chilled.
“…..many of the entries in the menu are left blank until the chef can see what the fishermen bring in that day. We were spoilt that evening with an enormous 3kg squid.”
That night the menu was truly mouth-watering stuff:
- Oysters tartare with apple sauce – this is pretty much the only time I’ve ever liked fresh oysters
- Radish with lemon and mustard seeds – as a radish-based dish, I was expecting this to be spicy, but it wasn’t. Surprisingly it had more of a fresh, palate cleanser type effect.
- Pyrenean white wine 15% oak aged – Felix thought this was a very interesting choice. It was well-matched and slipped down a treat, but was probably a wine you wouldn’t drink alone, because it was a little too watery – the perfect, refreshing accompaniment to some light aperitifs. One of the things that really made the wine there, was the glasses. Made by Zalto Denkart, they had a beautiful shape and delicate thin stems that were wonderful to hold. It was as if the air itself had crystallised into an icicle.
- Rosemary mascarpone with bacon jam on a chicken skin biscuit – I would never have guessed that the biscuit was chicken skin! It was somewhere between a crisp and a savoury biscuit or cracker and absolutely delicious, especially with the bacon jam.
- Parker house buns baked together in a honeycomb shape with burnt butter creme fraîche and wild garlic butter with the pickled buds of last year’s wild garlic – this was a real joy to eat even the butter by itself! Felix and I disagreed on which butter was our favourite, but since both were excellent it was a fairly moot point.
- Shrimp with sweet lemongrass from the chef’s mother-in-law’s garden, salt crystals, basil-infused buttermilk and kohlrabi – this dish reminded me of the kinds of botanicals I associate with gin. It was surprisingly herby.
“Shrimp with sweet lemongrass from the chef’s mother-in-law’s garden, salt crystals, basil-infused buttermilk and kohlrabi.”
- Schieferblume 2016 – a German white wine with quite a mineral flavour that worked well to cut through the richer flavours of the first two courses, but I particularly liked the way the minerals in the wine combined with the herbs in the shrimp dish. It had an almost tingling effect on the tongue.
- 3kg squid (it’s very rare to find one so big) served chilled with raw lime, jalapeno chilli, and a dressing of coconut and coriander – this was my favourite of the whole evening. A bit of a bombe surprise it was a complete contrast to the previous dish which was warm and herby. This dish was chilled and sweet like an ice-cream!
- Scallops from the Orkney islands handpicked by divers with caviar and cream – what an indulgence!
- Herring cooked in alcoholic vinegar like cerviche with potato, stinging nettle soup, wild flowers and horseradish cream – as a proud Dutchman, Felix had to say that this wasn’t as good as the Dutch way of serving herring. Personally I thought it was pretty good and much better than the Dutch way. I try to keep it quiet, but I’m not a massive fan!
- I was not expecting this! We were served sake instead of wine with these three courses, but the sake was served as wine. I’d never really thought of sake being on a level with wine, but this one changed my mind. 山羽按 (pronounced shan yu an in Chinese, but would probably be pronounced differently in Japanese) – it had a floral nuttiness to it that was apparently the result of natural oxidation due to lack of pasteurisation.
“I’d never really thought of sake being on a level with wine, but this one changed my mind.”
It was described to us as like sherry, but as I’m not very familiar with sherry I couldn’t say. What struck me most though was that it smelt and to some extent also tasted like light blue cheese! Felix thought differently. He could recognise the blue cheese aroma, but found it to be predominantly nutty in flavour. I think it was partly the combination with the scallop that enhanced the blue cheese flavour for me.
- Lobster with BBQ tomatoes and ginger – this was delicious. The tomatoes went surprisingly well with the lobster and the ginger gave it a little extra zing.
- Spinach pasta and puree with truffles and black walnuts – not at all what you expect from the presentation, which gave nothing away of what was underneath the surface. This dish was right up there with the squid. If I were allowed a second favourite, this would be it. It was by far and away the best pasta I have ever tasted! We double checked with the chef as to whether he’d said it contained spinach pesto and the response was absolute shock horror. “No, not over my dead body”, he said. It reminded him of his student days when pesto pasta was the only option! I mentioned that I knew there was a pesto championship held in Italy in an attempt to appease him, but he was very dismissive of it and remained firm in his disdain for pesto.
“We double checked with the chef as to whether he’d said it contained spinach pesto and the response was absolute shock horror. ‘No, not over my dead body”’ he said.”
- Claire Naudin Burgundy red wine – this was an unexpected choice for the lobster, but our sommelier explained they don’t just consider the proteins in the dish when pairing the food with the wine, but also the garnish. In the case of the lobster this was a rich tomato sauce that paired well with the red wine. The Burgundy was also a natural fit for the spinach pasta with enough body to complement even the pervasive truffle flavour. As a wine I thought it slightly stung. Felix thought that helped it match the food, but I thought it was a little too much. It tasted like tomatoes. Felix insisted on sundried tomatoes as he thought the wine was quite dry, but I didn’t see that so much.
- White duck from Cornwall dry-aged for four weeks and fried with salt-crust pastry made from salt, flour and water and served with garlic-turned sweet black spot, turnip with dry orange powder and a tuchi herb [that’s what it sounded like anyway!]. The skin of a blood orange formed the orange blob. – Felix was fascinated by the treatment of the duck and had been tracking its progress in the pan all evening.
- Duck offal pavé with blackcurrant and fermented grapes in an onion – very artistic and a great way of eating offal.
- Keens tart with quince – by this stage the wine was starting to kick in and I have to confess I don’t remember much about this dish.
- Claus Preisinger, made from St Laurent, a native grape to Austria which is like a mix between Syrah and Merlot according to our sommelier. It has a plum and pepper taste and goes well with game. I thought it tasted like a smoked cheese and this time even Felix agreed with me. Not something that happens often!
- Beetroot jam cooked with almond sugar and vinegar and served chilled with sweet woodruff and sour cream – I’ve never had woodruff before. The way it was served here, it had the texture of a sorbet.
- Cherry blossom-infused panna cotta with pickled cherry blossom garnish picked last year. The cherry blossom in the panna cotta had been picked by the sous-chef, Kevin, in London the day before. Kevin started as chef ten years ago in Switzerland. This was another fresh dish. Felix remarked that the cherry blossom garnish actually tasted like cherry. The infused panna cotta tasted more like vanilla.
- Charcoal burnt meringue with Yorkshire rhubarb, hibiscus sauce and milk ice-cream – the rhubarb was grown in darkness receiving light only from candlelight. Apparently “force-grown rhubarb” can only be grown within the “Rhubarb Triangle”, a small area within the towns of Wakefield, Rothwell, and Morely in Yorkshire. The concept is that the rhubarb will be sweeter because of the warmth of the candlelight. (At least that’s what I understood from the brief explanation). It grows so fast in this environment that you can hear it crackle. Tom Wilson was the producer of this rhubarb. The charcoal burning is an interesting technique that achieves a similar effect to using a blow torch, but with a slightly softer result.
- Savoie white wine from the Altesse region – In this region the grapes take a long time to harvest so tend to be sweeter, but not as much as to have the typical desert wine sweetness.
- To finish off we were offered tea, not in its normal format, but as plants bunched together on a chopping board. There wasn’t actually any real tea on the board, it was all herbal infusions, mostly ones I had never even heard of before, which coming from a background in tea is quite unusual. Felix had blackberry leaf tea and I opted for the woodruff tea. Both were delicious, but I thought mine had the edge. If I knew where to get it, I would definitely buy some for myself.
If you’ve read this far, then you’re probably ravenously hungry and salivating at the thought of dinner at the Kitchen Table, but you’ll have to wait a little longer as you join the queue of other gourmands anxious for a seat at the table.
Kitchen Table was awarded a Michelin star in 2014 which it retains. Additionally, this year, it won the Michelin Welcome Service Award.