In London’s big, smelly pond swims this sweet little fish. The owners – who run the front of house – met at uni. On my visit, both were working the room with effortless hospitality, like they’d been doing this their whole lives (he sort of has, growing up in a smart hotel; later working at the likes of Caravan and Hawksmoor).
And that’s what I loved about this little neighbourhood joint. It reeks of romance. There’s a half-pergola of sorts, its upper beam disappearing into the wall, with gorgeous silk roses winding their way up it. There’s classy period panelling on the walls, painted in pale, tasteful tones. Low-level lighting. Loudish jazz. Window boxes in the teeny walled courtyard. A cosy ‘nook’ downstairs, where there’s also a buzzy counter. It’s got special occasion vibes wherever you look.
The meal started brilliantly, with moreish, salty shards of brittle chicken skin and chewy, delicately garlicky whelks (it takes some balls to put whelks on a menu: they’re the snail’s aggressive coastal cousin, the one you’ll give all your lunch money to). Equally memorable was the parting shot: a charred, caramelised piece of watermelon with a beautifully bittersweet Campari sorbet.
But in between, the cooking was fine, rather than fabulous. A dish of beef shin, black mooli and smoked pork skin turned out to be a gastropubby plate of slow-cooked beef with mash, the pickled Japanese radish and piece of puffed-up pig more of a garnish. Octopus with sour green mango was more interesting, arriving as it did on a paste spiked with mustard seeds and curry leaves, but, the tentacle, which should have been the star, was bland.
So if it’s technical culinary brilliance you’re after, head a few doors down to Counter Culture or The Dairy. But Minnow’s ambience will still steal plenty of hearts.