What is the perfect neighbourhood restaurant? It varies according to taste, budget and, indeed, the neighbourhood. I still remember the Michelin-starred chef Brett Graham telling me – apparently in all sincerity – that The Ledbury, then the holder of two Michelin stars, was such a place; well, it was in Notting Hill, so that might well be true. But for me, the ideal place to have as your local establishment should combine excellent food with a well-chosen and sensibly priced wine list, friendly and interested (and interesting) staff, a stylish room and, ideally, a location that makes you want to visit, even if you don’t live nearby.
Hammersmith, then, does not score desperately highly on the last criteria; it is an unlovely part of West London, with its shopping centres that time forgot and a general air of needing a good injection of something fresh. Which, thankfully, has arrived in the form of Faber, the seafood restaurant of your dreams. Its founders Matt and Anthony had success during lockdown with a home delivery service of shellfish, seafood and cocktails. This then expanded into the Victoria pub in Mile End and now they’ve arrived in Hammersmith, ready to give the area a much-needed injection of chutzpah and excellent fish. Have they succeeded?
I took my friend Oliver, a discerning man who is quick to offer both praise and criticism when both are merited. When we arrive at Faber (so called because it is the Latin word for ‘Smith’, a symbol of the mooted accessibility of the restaurant), we are both impressed by the stylish, welcoming interior. “Like a Turkish harem crossed with a Nineties cruise ship”, Oliver quips, and I laugh before telling him off for his absurdity. We order two glasses of the excellent English sparkling wine, the Wiston Brut, and then fall upon the menu with alacrity and enthusiasm.
Obviously, because Faber specialises in seafood, we order an all-piscine selection, although I did cast a longing glance at the onglet and slow-roasted pork belly. But everything that we do order is exemplary, properly innovative and fabulous cooking, courtesy of the appropriately named head chef Ollie Bass, late of Quo Vadis and Sessions Art Club. Starters of trout tartare, given a faintly Japanese twist by the addition of keta caviar and nori, and a mind-blowingly good barbecued scallop with a moreish cauliflower puree, are some of the best seafood of this kind I can remember having, at more than reasonable prices for the quality of what we eat.
A main of sea bass with puree of butternut squash and purple sprouting broccoli is even better; chef-Bass has a rare skill with vegetables that turns them from something that one eats out of necessity to making them just as vital a part of the plate in front of one as the fish. Oliver and I look at one another, raise a glass of the excellent Gavi we’re drinking in admiration and rapture, and he, the man who is less than easily pleased, says with wonder “Oh, this is so, so good.” I cannot but help concur.
We eschew pudding, but I have a slice of very fine brie, washed down with a superb sugar kelp old fashioned, made with kelp from the Welsh coast. It’s unusual, sustainable and delicious, just like everything else that we have here, and then it’s time to depart into the cold Hammersmith sunset, promises to return being uttered as we head out. And these promises shall be kept as long as the greatest Faber since the publisher of the same name was founded continues to exist, and to make lovers of serious seafood very happy.
Faber, 206 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7DH. For more information, including recipes and details of Faber’s suppliers, please visit www.faberrestaurants.co.uk.