I have a seething hatred for parking wardens operating in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; those harbingers of doom, pillagers of the people, the dark knights of the dictatorship we know as the Parking Authority. Having lived in the borough for a number of years under their relentless iron fist, I have come to despise them with good reason. Despite being in possession of a resident’s parking permit, I have at various times had my car clamped, towed away, ticketed, threatened with destruction and generally abused for the purposes of generating revenue for the regime; London councils raked in £328m in 2009 from parking fines to which my contribution was not insignificant. It wouldn’t be so bad if I was at fault, but a number of the aforementioned tickets were issued erroneously, forcing me into a Kafkaesque nightmare of faceless bureaucracy as I appealed against the penalty like a helpless Josef K on trial.
What has all this got to do with a restaurant review? Well Kitchen W8, Philip Howard’s new joint, is situated in Kensington just off the High Street. Since moving to greener pastures of sprawling, manicured lawns and tennis courts, I no longer have my resident’s permit, so it was with trepidation that I pulled up in Abingdon Road and parked in a suspended bay. Suicidal behaviour you may think, but the sign clearly stated that the suspension ended at 6pm, and the time according to my wristwatch was 7.48pm. Bingo. The regime wouldn’t be getting a penny from me tonight.
Inside the restaurant one is immediately put at ease by the cosy lighting and the compartmented dining rooms, the joyous atmosphere of a fully booked venue on a Thursday night, walls strewn with interesting drawings and paintings and an interior design scheme that is subtle, classy and contemporary. I especially liked the framed picture of a man with a frying pan on his head, having just upset the head chef.
For those readers not as obsessed with the restaurant industry as I am: Philip Howard is a leading British chef who co-owns and runs The Square, the celebrated two-Michelin star restaurant in Mayfair. He also co-owns The Ledbury in Notting Hill, which has been awarded its second Michelin star this year, and now he’s branched out into Kensington with the intention of creating an ‘informal’ dining experience; code for ‘we don’t want a Michelin star’. But old habits die hard and this already has all the hallmarks of a Michelin contender. He can’t help but deliver quality to his customers. Similar to The Ledbury, Kitchen W8 is headed by another of Phil’s protégés from The Square – Mark Kempson – and I was eager to see what this young chef could produce from the shiny stainless steel abode of his new culinary domain.
A selection of breads were offered, followed by an amuse bouche of a deep fried cod ball, nothing out of the ordinary but quite delicious nonetheless. That was quickly succeeded by a starter of pork and rabbit terrine ‘en croute’, served with a scrumptious spiced chutney and sour dough toast. The terrine was faultless, the chutney was good enough to eat on its own; an impressively solid start.
The menu at Kitchen W8 reads like a glutton’s dream and after much deliberation I opted for the venison. The plate arrived sporting a handful of thin venison slices bordering on Carpaccio and a smearing of artichoke puree. While the portion size was a tad meagre for my greedy disposition, the meat was tender to the point of dissolving, the jus was sticky and sweet and the artichoke puree was intense, commanding and memorable. The other plates on our table fared better in size and were piled high with food; a hefty rib-eye steak, succulent and meaty, served with perfectly crispy chips, three generous portions of wood pigeon with foie gras and baked potato, a hunky fillet of halibut with onions and chanterelles.
Dessert was a palate pleaser: a warm bitter chocolate pudding with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, a rich and heady dish that was formed to the letter. The cheese plate was generous and a crème fraîche tart was heavenly. Service is friendly and efficient, the front of house team working as if they have been serving customers for years as opposed to a matter of months. We were a party of seven, another table seated ten, yet dishes arrived promptly and water and wine were refilled without asking. I left feeling content and despite choosing the only dish on the menu that came with more plate than food, I was stuffed to button popping.
Approaching my car, I had that familiar sinking feeling as I spied the ominous yellow envelope attached to my windscreen reading ‘Penalty Charge Notice’. Convinced that the parking warden had issued the ticket baselessly, I began to snap photos of the crime scene to use as evidence for my appeal. It was only then that I noticed a prominent box on the very same signboard reading ‘Residents Parking Only’. I had been so busy deciphering the regulations of the suspended bay that I had failed to observe that, despite the suspension, I couldn’t park there anyway.
I drove away, wondering what misfortune would befall me next. Would I mistakenly run down Prince Harry as he stumbles out of a Kensington nightclub and into the path of my car? Would I spend the rest of my days writing to you at Her Majesty’s Pleasure? Furthermore, would all this adversity prevent me from visiting this restaurant again? Well actually, no. I would happily return, any day of the week. But next time I will park somewhere else. Westminster, perhaps.
Kitchen W8, 11-13 Abingdon Road, London W8 6AH. Tel: 020 7937 0120. Website: www.kitchenw8.com
Summary: a fantastic new addition to the London dining scene, great for a romantic evening meal, a celebratory event or a buzzing luncheon. Just watch out for the parking wardens.