Where in London can you get a three course lunch for £28 with a Michelin Star? The answer is this place, Kitchen W8. I’m a big fan of Phil Howard (previously of The Square, now Elystan Street) who part-owns Kitchen W8. Looking through the menu, you can see glimpses of Phil’s influence throughout the dishes.
Phil’s books ‘The Square: Savoury’ and ‘The Square: Sweet’ are two of the best cookbooks that I own. The food is simple in terms of flavours but just the right side of complex in the construction of dishes. As we headed to High Street Kensington, I couldn’t wait for the experience to begin.
Kitchen W8 couldn’t really be in a more attractive area. Just off the main Kensington High Street down Abingdon Road, it’s perfect for lunch or dinner after some high-end retail therapy. As we strolled into the restaurant, we were followed by other diners who had various designer carrier bags in tow.
The dining room is a smart yet relaxed space. The large mirrors and waiters uniforms reminded me a lot of Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, owned by Bruce Poole who has previously worked with Phil Howard at The Square. We got a spot on a comfortable corner with a panoramic view of the dining room.
We had a choice of a la carte or set lunch menus. Given that we were excited at the prospect of three courses for such good value, we went with the set menu. I could quite happily have had the set menu as a tasting menu in itself – each and every dish sounded tempting.
As the weather was hot, we opted to try a mocktail. A virgin mojito is the sole non-alcoholic cocktail on offer here at Kitchen W8 so we went with that. As it turned out, it was well made and very refreshing.
We decided that we would try each dish from the set menu between us. First up, a salad of pineapple, tomato, avocado, watermelon and basil. A beautifully presented plate and one of the best salads that you’re ever likely to taste. The avocado puree stood out, as did the freshness of the tomatoes. Perfect for this time of year.
I went with the rather strange sounding mackerel with gooseberries, also featuring smoked eel, cucumber and almond. It may have sounded strange but this was one of the best starters in a long time. The mackerel, delicately cured, sat on top of a fine dice of cucumber topped with shaved gooseberries with an almond gazpacho scented with smoked eel.
The mackerel was incredibly fresh, to the point where there was no ‘fish’ flavour, just the pure taste of the ocean. The gazpacho was on another level with hits of smoke flavour from the eel and the odd interjection of garlic and almond. A superb dish.
For mains, we began with the sea trout garnished with peas, wilted lettuce, bacon and mint. The plate appeared simple yet elegant with a good portion of fish topped with peas and crispy bacon along with a braised head of gem lettuce. The flavours all worked together and the fish was cooked perfectly.
I have never tried ox tongue before, so ordering the ox tongue with spiced carrots and beetroot seemed like a bit of a risk. Luckily, the kitchen here know what they’re doing. This was quite simply incredible. I could easily have been eating a sirloin steak, the meat from the tongue was so juicy and rich in beef flavour yet texturally soft and melting in the mouth.
Alongside the tongue sat a large disc of beetroot, the size of an ice hockey puck. The beetroot had been baked to the point that it became sweet, a perfect accompaniment to the tongue. No doubt what the star of this plate was, I have got to try doing ox tongue this way at home.
The dining room continued to fill with a number of people all dressed for summer. Kitchen W8 don’t operate a strict dress code so feel free to wear what you’re most comfortable in, although I would avoid shorts and baseball caps.
Desserts sounded so good – blackcurrant and yoghurt sorbet with vanilla doughnuts along with poached yellow peach, lemon verbena and raspberries. Again, we went with one of each. As the plates landed on the table, we couldn’t help but question the presentation somewhat.
Usually the menu description is a cryptic clue for a more extravagant dish in order to lower the diners expectations and utilise the element of surprise. Here, there were no surprises. The two beautifully formed quenelles of sorbet were sat alone in a bowl with two small doughnuts on the side for company.
Switch focus over to the peach dish. This looked like someone had taken the time to lay out the components of a peach melba delicately and then plonk a load of squirty cream on the top, not what you expect in a Michelin starred restaurant.
The flavours of peach melba were all there with a beautiful raspberry sorbet hiding underneath all that ghastly cream. Full marks for the delivery of flavour but the presentation needs an urgent rethink to fully do the dish justice.
Similar issues were being found with the sorbet dish. A well made sorbet and freshly made doughnuts, but together? No. They didn’t go. The dish felt like a bit of an afterthought, a sort of ‘oh well, it’s only the lunch menu’ kind of feel to it. We were slightly disappointed.
Interestingly, there were no amuse-bouches or petit fours following the meal. The bread, however, does make up for it. Soft and light and close to the excellence of the bread at Purnell’s in Birmingham – still the best loaf that we’ve ever tried.
In terms of value, Kitchen W8 delivers. It’s a good entry point for anyone wanting to try a Michelin starred restaurant for the first time. Our experience was both relaxed and enjoyable on the whole and there were no complaints at the final bill of £79.87 ($105.13 US).
Opening Times: Lunch: Monday-Saturday 1230-1430, Sunday 1230-1500
Dinner: Monday-Thursday 1800-2130, Friday-Saturday 1800-2200,
Nearest Tube Station: High Street Kensington (Circle and District Lines)