The last time I was here, everyone was crying. No sinister reason: it used to be a function room, and we were over-emotional at an emigration party. These days this ‘room above a pub’ is more likely to have you weeping tears of joy. Set above Amuse Bouche (an inviting bar selling champers at friendly prices), the room has found new purpose as a terrific neighbourhood restaurant.
The vibe is charmingly casual: the high Victorian ceilings have been strung with filament bulbs and the fireplace filled with tea-lights, while the champagne-themed posters are a hangover from its party space days. The coat cupboard is unticketed – you simply point yours out when you’re leaving (they won’t get nicked: this is Parsons Green, where people still queue in an orderly fashion for rush-hour buses).
But cut to the food, and it’s an altogether more serious affair. Our bread came with flavoured butter, and we were served a large carafe of tap water infused with cucumber. The weekly-changing menu is courtesy of Claude Compton, who trained at Club Gascon and Petersham Nurseries. ‘Claude is very experimental,’ gushes our waitress, ‘but he’s got a great palate, so it nearly always works.’ She’s not wrong.
Both starter and pud were innovative without being wacky, bringing interesting ingredients to life. There were spears of white asparagus finished with goat’s curd, zested lemon and a dusting of onion ash, and a finale of blood-orange slices drizzled with thick raspberry vinegar. But the real star was our main course, which took ordinary ingredients and elevated them to greatness. A beef cheek had been slow-cooked to melting point, then teamed with a blend of tartare and horseradish sauce: creamy yet sharp, with chunks of gherkin. Perfect. The meat came over a dollop of creamed parsnip, finished with a silky hint of white chocolate. A hunk of bone stood to one side: the marrow had been scooped out, mixed with parsley and breadcrumbs, then returned to its shell for eating with a dainty spoon.
But, it’s not just good food that makes a restaurant, especially a local restaurant: it’s great service. And Claude’s Kitchen appears to have hired the nicest bunch of people in town. Ultra-efficient, warm and welcoming, they’re everything you want. For all these reasons, it should be applauded.
By Tania Ballantine