“Shotgun I get the crab linguini.” No, not fair. There’s no rule of dining etiquette that states you can lay claim to a dish over your dining companion before you’ve even sat down. Let alone email them ahead of time suggesting that’s what you’re going to order. But that’s what Lydia did when we ate at Maple.
“Fine, I’ll have it, too,” I said, stabbing the menu with a pointed forefinger, “but then we’ll be doing this a disservice.” Fortunately, Maple’s menu isn’t so extensive you’re spoiled for choice, but what there is will leave you unable to decide. You’d never imagine you were eating on the far side of a shopping mall, with a bus depot for a backdrop.
Shopping malls as a rule aren’t really celebrated for their choice dining. They’re where chain restaurants go to die. At least they were until Westfield White City came along. It’s not a mall, it’s a whole new way of life. As if symbolising its now ten-year rise to retail royalty, on my way through I passed a Tesla store. Yes, Tesla. The electric cars brought to you by the eccentric space-obsessed tycoon, Elon Musk. He has a shop in Westfield White City. It’s why restaurants that open here are not to be sneered at.
But I digress. In the end, we agreed to share. We ordered three starters between us; ceviche so good it could have come straight from Peru, and a tuna tartare that sang from the bowl with its ginger and sesame dressing, but the dish that said this chef knew what he was doing was the vegan sweetcorn chowder, so rich you’d think there were cream in it, with the charred corn giving it a smokiness and additional depth with marjoram-infused oil. We clashed spoons frequently attempting to get our fair share.
It’s unsurprising they know what they’re doing here, though. Maple is the latest creation from the team behind The Botanist and The Jugged Hare, already trailblazers in the gastropub canon. Maple moves another step upward, however, into more conventional restaurant territory but still rooted in upmarket accessibility. If there were a theme here it might be steam punk. Never mind the copper vats, quasi-industrial pipework and exposed brick, but the waiters were getting in on the action with bow ties, tattoos and waxed moustaches. This may have been a quiet weekday evening, but you could tell there’s a sense of fun to the place. Dining here could be really enjoyable.
Where they depart from traditional gastropub fare is in knowing what to do behind the bar. The cocktail menu is crafted and clever. A ‘Son of a Peach’ of bourbon, peaty single malt and crème de peche shows a bartender who knows that whisky and peach are a great combination. Equally, the Maple Espressotini, with Tia Maria, tells the world that there’s more to be had from the ubiquitous espresso martini served everywhere else.
But back to the menu, and the etiquette of ordering. When it arrived, the crab linguini oozed a mellifluous creamy sauce with a hint of heat from chilli oil, although the crab itself was given a gentle nod atop the pasta, rather than be an integral part of the dish, proving ironically that signature dishes are one thing, but to really cut it, a restaurant should be able to impress across the full gamut of its offering.
And to this we credit the waiter. He recommended the tuna over the terrine, and it was his suggestion we try the corn chowder; equally, his principal choice for a main was not the crab, but the confit duck. And, boy, was he right. Rich, earthy cannellini beans, fired up by smoky pancetta and a gaminess given some sweet acidity treatment from blackberries, it was a stellar hit. His suggestion, too, for the Riesling proved knowledge beyond the kitchen, and it worked a treat throughout, a terrific compliment to the crab but equally with a minerality that cut through the confit.
With little room remaining for the desserts, it would have been churlish not to try the cheesecake, or the elderflower pannacotta, so we did. United in our decision and both providing a conclusion to a meal that proved that here, if we had to put a word on it, was an opportunity for comfort food, but turned up a notch. These are favourites that surprise you, in a relaxed setting that make for some shopping downtime.
Or indeed, the opposite. Come to Maple to eat first, then walk the meal off considering a test drive in a Tesla.
Maple is celebrating Westfield White City’s 10th birthday on Tuesday 30thOctober with 20% off all food and drink. Their mixologist has also created a special birthday cocktail to mark the occasion. For more information, including menus, group bookings and other special offers, visit www.maplewestfield.com.