Please note, 108 Garage has now closed. Time Out Food editors, September 2019.
If I told you that this garage (duh) conversion at the crappy end of Portobello Road – founded by a tousle-haired former financier with a country-hotel chef he found on Gumtree – was the capital’s flavour of the month… well, the more cynical among you would be forgiven for eye-rolling me out of the room.
But that’s just what’s happened. This publicist’s wet dream of a backstory has resulted in a rather lovely spot that, while not quite a game-changer – and despite subsisting purely on word of mouth for its first few months – is already an utter bastard to get a table at.
The dining room is a handsome mix of dark mid-century furniture, bare bricks, corrugated iron and great washes of copper. Decoration is eccentric: a display of pipe fittings hangs on one wall; a dystopian, vorticist-style metal artwork on another, facing a painting that’s half Henry VIII and half Vigo the Carpathian from ‘Ghostbusters II’. Cabbages dot the bar. The place is muscular, atmospheric and ever so slightly ’90s. Staff are casual, verging on matey, but extremely charming. Pats on the back all round, then.
Ah, but the food. The star turns come last. There is sweet potato ice cream on a Styrofoam-light bed of popcorn and zingy sheep’s yoghurt. More memorable still is a dense chocolate crémeux, which comes with an ace artichoke ice cream perched on a mound of toasted wild rice (maggots in appearance, Proustian Rice Krispies in practice).
Everything in between is meticulous. Decent sourdough comes with a light lardo-whipped butter but is a better vehicle still for little bowls of near-liquid chicken-liver parfait and sharp, silken tarama with only the faintest whiff of roe.
A single veal sweetbread, lightly seared and set atop charred cabbage, is an earthy riot. Roast octopus sees an eldritch limb, yielding and offset by sweet slivers of golden turnip, tahini and a translucent radicchio leaf. It’s so fresh it deserves a slap.
A main of Jacob’s Ladder (beef short rib by another name) tastes like a rich, deconstructed burger. But what a burger – the charred, still-pink flesh falling apart at the sight of a knife, a fine dill pickle tartare sitting on top, a slick of chocolatey black garlic puree underneath. It should be noted, though, that this does not come cheap, especially considering the backwater location. The lunch set menu, for five small courses, weighs in at £35 per head.
With a couple of exceptions (Hiya, The Ledbury! Yoo-hoo, Snaps + Rye!) this part of west London has a reputation as a foodie wasteland. But no longer: 108 Garage is well worth a visit. If you can get in.