Lucy Self heads to Kensal Rise, where she falls under the spell of The Parlour.
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Let’s get the ‘other’ details of The Parlour (an all day restaurant-cum-bar down a dark alleyway in Kensal Rise) out the way first. The interior – divided into front bar, casual dining space, pretty decked garden, more formal restaurant and an enclosed chef’s table – is a pleasing mix of natty design touches (we loved the mustard leather banquettes, ceiling of hanging bulbs in the bar and chuckled over ashtrays made from upturned empty shells in the garden). And the staff couldn’t be nicer or more engaged.
Credential-wise, CVs don’t get much better than Head Chef/Owner Jesse Dunford Wood’s – with time spent at the stoves of Gidleigh Park, Le Gavroche, Kensington Place, Balthazar and as Executive Chef at the National Dining Rooms (which won Time Out’s ‘Best British Restaurant’ in 2007), regular appearances on Masterchef and a successful partnership at The Mall Tavern in Notting Hill.
But we’re going to ignore all of that and share with you its biggest selling point. FUN. The type of fun when you’re sitting on a bus on the way home with a stupid grin on your face.
If time and money allow, leave yourself in Wood’s capable hands and sit at the chef’s table. Expect him to come over A LOT. Expect geeky conversations about food peppered with funny anecdotes. Expect to be assaulted with dishes. Don’t ask them to stop (particularly when it comes to dessert).
Promising we would at some point groan in defeat – Wood challenged us with a seemingly endless array of dishes. First a few small plates: a clever riff on KFC’s popcorn chicken with tasty morsels of fried chook interspersed with salty puffs of smoky corn; a silky hummus made with chestnuts to be scooped up greedily with still-warm discs of rosemary-studded pitta and a beautiful plate of peppery radishes served leaves-n-all alongside a whipped butter so light it could be eaten on clouds.
Then the daintiest dish of pale curds of young cheese with picked cucumber, lemon rind and tiny lilac flowers. Being the epitome of summer, it’s probably long gone from the menu but we assure you, it was a pleasure to look at and eat.
Next ravioli made of raw vegetables, which sounds a bit smug but turned out to be a real showstopper. The razor thin flesh of the veg stuffed with a punchy goat’s cheese and served with a highly addictive ‘sauce’ of dried fruit and capers which, Wood informed us, originates from Sicily.
Like many chefs of the culinary time we live in, the menu’s wording sometimes masks the complexity of a dish. What is described as pate, cold toast & marmalade is actually a textbook parfait delivered with a lip-puckering jam of tart English berries and snaps of homemade Melba toast.
Things get a bit ‘moleccy gastro’ with a custard of blue cheese (served in an egg shell and topped with savoury crumble and dipping twiglet) but we forgive based on the fact it’s just so good. Especially when followed by a fish dish so sublimely simple it shows that Wood has skills beyond bells and whimsy.
The last stab in the savoury stakes comes with a crisp-skinned oblong of pork belly to share. Obviously this would be perfectly fine on its own, but Wood serves it with a pearl barley risotto and a deconstructed apple crumble. First it makes us giggle with glee, then fight greedily over the last mouthful.
The final flourish can only be described as a pudding-based performance piece. You wear the earphones whilst Wood uses music, tin foil, a blowtorch and a bewildering number of sugary treats to create a sweet symphony. Toasted wagon wheels, arctic rolls, salted caramel truffles, a parfait made to look like a honey pot are just a few of the drama-filled desserts that appear before your very eyes. It’s theatrical, it’s silly and (of course) it all tastes incredible.
With culinary tricks up every sleeve, the real magic of The Parlour is that it is as good as the spells it attempts to create. With the knowledge that his team is smashing it front of house and back, Wood can create, play and experiment on what we can only imagine is an enthusiastic and loyal local audience. Far from taking it too seriously, he not only seems to be having a ball, but is set on everyone else having one too.