Notting Hill Kitchen – Portuguese Hospitality in West London:
I was genuinely excited by the invitation to visit Notting Hill Kitchen; having spent much of last year visiting the Alentejo, Madeira and Central Portugal, I currently have a soft spot for all things Portuguese. I’d heard good things about Executive Chef Luis Baena too, though for some reason though I thought the restaurant had existed for a lot longer. In fact, it launched less than a year ago in July 2013.
Arriving early I got a chance to take a few photos of the surrounding area and the restaurant exterior. I personally prefer the ‘London with an edge’ of Notting Hill to nearby South Kensington and Mayfair. It’s part of London with a rich tapestry of architecture and styles from the brutalist Trellick Tower through to St Peter’s Church and the Grand Union Canal
And, as with most of the upmarket residential areas of London, Notting Hill has a wide range of restaurants – from The Ledbury with two Michelin stars through to venues like The Shed and Rum Kitchen better suited to casual dining. I wasn’t sure what to expect at Notting Hill Kitchen, although watching well heeled, immaculately dressed diners arriving I anticipated something a little more formal inside.
In fact, the style is more common in continental Europe than in London – while the food is formal, interior design and to some extent service is informal. The aim with the new menu too is to maintain a balance between rusticity and refinement, with fresh, seasonal produce sourced from an extensive list of artisanal Spanish and Portuguese suppliers.
“The new dishes embody my desire to reinterpret traditional Iberian cuisine,” says Baena. “I have attempted to continue the evolution of some of our most popular dishes, as well as adapting and experimenting with new flavour combinations.”
Since I haven’t visited before, I can’t compare the new menu with the previous one. But, what is on offer now is an interesting but brief mixture of informal tapas style bar dining and a more structured menu of starters, main courses (divided into ‘land’ and ‘sea’) and desserts. And, although we had to ask for the oil to accompany our bread, what we ate while we waited was a first class mixture of bakery goods.
We asked for our wines to be matched – mostly because I was intent on sampling the seared beef tenderloin for my main course, which meant I would need a glass of red wine. In any case, the sommelier in a good restaurant will be in a position to make more educated choices with an intimate knowledge of both wines and food on offer.
We started with Bellori Joven, a Spanish dry, aromatic white Verdejo wine, to pair both with Scallops ordered by my companion and my oyster croquetas. The Scallops came with an ‘ajo blanco’ (white almond) panna-cotta. I was given a morsel to taste, perfectly cooked, delicate and light
And Dorset oyster croquetas, a refined take on the Portuguese classic were served with a pretty garnish of sea vegetables and silver skin pickled onions.
My focus on beef tenderloin for the main course proved well justified. It came with truffled mashed potatoes, white asparagus and sauted mushrooms, with a rich Madeira sauce. The meat was beautifully flavoured and meltingly tender. The matched wine, a 2011 Pico Cuadro, Ribera del Duero, Spain was a deep fruity tempranillo. Perfect with the sticky, Madeira sauce.
My companion’s slow cooked cod with squid ink (no crumbled chorizo as he doesn’t eat meat) came with a glass of Van Zellers Douro White 2010. The dish looked sublime and I heard nothing but appreciative noises from his side of the table.
Greengage Sticky Pudding was a great summery take on sticky toffee pudding, without the heavy after effect and with a little ice-cream to counter the intense sweetness.
Pastel de Nata, a classic Portuguese dessert came with cinnamon ice-cream and mixed fruit. For me, the sticky greengage pudding was the better option but I suspect that depends on how much of a sweet tooth you have – the Pastel de Nata didn’t offer quite the sugar rush of my choice of pudding. Dessert wine recommendations are listed on the menu and I really enjoyed my Fonseca tawny port.
All in a splendid evening – and I hope the Portuguese Ambassador, who I understand had a party seated on a nearby table, enjoyed the food as much as I did.
Notting Hill Kitchen
92 Kensington Park Road
London W11 2PN