At the not-so glamorous end of the King’s Road, lies a very special restaurant you’re guaranteed to remember, not because of the interior design, the charming service, or the Sloane Rangers dining there (and you’ll find all of the above too), but because the food reminds you what made you first fall in love with eating out – a refreshing change in these days of gimmicky presentation and restaurants run by celebrity chefs who arrogantly position their autographed cookbooks on the reception desk in the hope that you’ll want to purchase one on the way out.
I had vaguely heard of Medlar, due to our former food editor enjoying many a boozy lunch here (the wine list being worthy of a feature in itself), yet it took Marcus Wareing to recently proclaim it to be his favourite local restaurant for date nights with his wife, whilst being photographed in one of the bright green booths, for me to realise that I was probably missing out on something special. Thankfully, despite having the approval of one of the best chefs in London, not to mention a string of food awards under their belt, it still has that ‘best kept secret’ vibe, whilst delighting diners with top drawer fine dining – and I’d like to keep it that way.
Medlar (a fruit first cultivated in Roman times in case you didn’t know) is the first venture by co-owners Joe Mercer Nairne and David O’Connor. David’s first experience of front of house was working as a waiter at his parents’ restaurant before he moved to London and began his career at Orrery, prior to managing The Square and The Ledbury among others, while Joe, who leads the kitchen at Medlar, enjoyed a privileged Eton education and studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Oxford, before a stint at Leith’s School of Food and Wine cemented his desire to work in the food industry – and from there he wound his way to the prestigious Savoy Grill and Chez Bruce.
Thanks to years of experience in both realms, the pair have achieved what they originally set out to do when they founded Medlar in 2011; giving diners a consistently high standard of service that is breezy and attentive, yet never verges on the intrusive, coupled with sublime food using the choicest ingredients. You’ll find each element of every dish prepared with accuracy, simplicity and a lightness of touch which only the most knowledgeable and skilful of chefs employ.
While their core cooking style is decidedly French, my starter of thinly sliced rare roast lamb with tabbouleh, pomegranate and sautéed tongue highlighted the inspiration they continue to draw from flavours around the world; creating a menu that is filled with surprise and variety that would make me want to return on a regular basis. My main of roast coquelet was meanwhile designed along more classical lines; accompanied with a seriously silky celeriac purée, cloud-like pillows of potato gnocchi, French beans and roasted salsify, before being doused with a glossy satisfyingly-rich jus and finished with decadent shavings of black winter truffle.
Head Sommelier, Christopher Delalonde, wisely recommended a Pinot Noir, creating a perfect partner for the roasted bird and the woody notes of the truffle and root vegetables, and it was good to see that the wine list, although impressive should you wish to splash out, offered plenty of bottles on or under the £40 mark. Nor do they sting their diners with surcharges for accompaniments here; a three course dinner Mon-Sat evening is a reasonable £46, while a three course lunch Monday to Friday is priced at £28, with each dish always presented complete, leaving you with a big smile on your face in more ways than one.
Unlike so many fine dining experiences where there tends to be one, or at best two, stand-out dishes, there were no highs and lows, for I loved every course equally including the dessert; a silky buttermilk pannacotta with Barbie-pink poached English rhubarb, finished with exotic-looking fresh and vibrantly green pistachios.
The best restaurant on the King’s Road by far, this is a true foodie’s paradise, with proprietors who place their customer’s happiness ahead of any critical acclaim. That said, if you didn’t know it, you’d swear this gem had a Michelin star, a badge of honour they sadly (and inexplicably) lost during the guide’s headline grabbing cull of 2015. If my experience was anything to go by, they certainly deserve such recognition, yet I like David and Joe’s c‘est la vie philosophy and the fact that they haven’t become obsessed with chasing it – after all, Medlar is for people who don’t care about such things and prove it with their loyalty.
Medlar, 438 Kings Road, Chelsea Sw10 0LJ. For reservations call 020 7349 1900 or for more information visit the website.