A recent business trip offered me the chance to try out a new place to eat far from my usual stamping ground down in “that there London place”.
Although it was terribly tempting to avail myself of the knowledge of hip places and fine dining and “really you have to go there mate” from the chefs and food lovers and diners I now seem to know, I elected to follow-up on a promise I made to Cheila Reais my contact via Twitter.
Cheila popped up on the old Wolf Restaurant Radar last year sometime as she began promoting a soon-to-be-opened venture in the Notting Hill/North Kensington area. Billed as an “All day Townhouse Bar and Grill” it sounded like it should be a fun and relaxed sort of place. It is the latest in a small growing chain of restaurants that already includes the two successfully established Beach Blanket Babylon venues, in Shoreditch and Notting Hill.
It is only about 5 mins walk from Westbourne Park Tube station and somewhere North of the Hyde Park are I was staying; apologies for my vagueness but I have no idea what is what, or where it is in The Old Smoke.
Arriving on foot it was easy to spot as it sits as a corner building and painted black. At the door I was greeted in a friendly manner by the doormen and ushered directly into the presence of Cheila. We had never met though I have seen the occasional picture of her in the Twitter feeds from time to time so I was able to recognise her immediately. I will say this, she is elegant, wonderfully charming and a simply superb hostess.
West Thirty Six is a very interesting place visually, much has been made of recycling old metal and timber, the decoration of the establishment with nik naks makes for a great way to while away the time, Particularly if one ends up dining Solo, like I was.
There is a basement area that I presume is below the upstairs deck and must be semi-open as it serves as a smoking area, the corridor access and “facilities” walls are cladded in old timber possibly recycled floor boards. The effect throughout is fun and reminds me of something I find difficult to put my finger on. Maybe it is a sort of American 1920-30’s prohibition vibe cum stylee.. perhaps. Certainly the white braces and black uniforms, or denim dungarees of the servers bends it visually that way.
Downstairs is the bar and dining area divided up by partitions and on the right joining the bar and barista’s station is the open Kitchen with its charcoal grill belching the occasional gout of flame and infusing the atmosphere with its cooking aromas. There is a small area snug up against he kitchen bar for a small number of people to eat and watch the chef crew hard at work.. From the moment I arrived to my warm greeting by Cheila and her team to the minute I left this area was just hopping and heaving with diners obviously having a great night out.
The building is like a warren, rooms and floors creating fabulous little areas to nestle in with friends and either dine or settle down for drinks in all manner of old chairs. The Barman/mixologist at the second bar on the first floor has a great range of very interesting and tempting spirits for some marvelously creative cocktails, looks quite the Speakeasy den it does.
I was led to a table on the first floor in front of the side window, the character of the room was club/den like and a fabulous rusted lantern hung from the ceiling, reminiscent of those old Tuscan beauties, and a glorious image of a majestic (unclad) Sophia Loren graced the wall to my left. Distractingly lovely is a large print of a nekid Sophia is all I will be drawn to say on the matter… just peachy.
So here I was sat in a comfy spot with an elegant derriere to my left and a charming lantern dangling to my right, my eyes darting about looking at the eclectic tasteful paraphernalia and books. All the while I was people watching plenty of casually hip and cool operators come here it seems, no doubt drifting up from Notting Hill and Kensington. Mildly Bohemian is probably a small way to describe it.
While I sat waiting for my food amongst the exposed electrical conduits In the Speakeasy lowlights and the background hummed to the sound of contented customers expressing delight at what was being delivered to them, I listened to the sound system dribbling cool and funky tunes into the room and sipped on a very fruity example of a Semillon. A Tim Adams Fairfield Block to be exact, melony greengageness and smooth heady clean finish.
I was blessed with great service and attention from Jonathan, Bart and Ash; all, who I note, smile with their eyes.
So after all that usual preamble and waffle, what did I have to fill me up.
First I chose the crab trifle. Visually mimicking a desert but made with layers of spiced tomato sauce and white crab meat, topped off with creamed avocado and somewhere in there a delicious little sprig or two of fennel; served with a slice of lemon and char grilled rye bread. All the flavours worked well together and I would suggest to anyone that they want to squeeze the lemon juice onto the bread before you ladle on a blob of the crab trifle. You do that and you will be rewarded with a lovely citrus aromatic hit as you pop it into your mouth. Way more flavoursome than doing the usual squeeze over the crab flesh. My observation would for the chef to be a smidge bolder with the chilli, not madly but just make it a bit more obvious.
Mains, well it just had to be a bit of steak. The group dry age their own beef and I plumped for the 39 days aged, mainly because It was a modest sized 250g and the other options were for cuts of 350 and 400g. Such was the surprise of one of the nearby diners that she exclaimed, (decently loudly with eyes wide) “look at that it’s huge”, and rolled her eyes appreciatively when she started to chew. Chef really should be told that the size and quality of his meat brought unadulterated joy on the night.
The sirloin needs accompanying sides so I chose the beef dripping chips which were excellent soft and fluffy inside and superbly crunchy on the outside not only that they were as thick as a blacksmith’s fingers. My other side dish was Swiss chard (great to see Swiss cahrd on a menu as I grow it and love the stuff) crisped red onion rings and roast pine nuts and puy lentil topped with a dollop of soft cream cheese. I asked for the béarnaise sauce on-the-side (nice little hit of tarragon in there) and was able to administer proportions of each as I saw fit. The Steak was superbly char grilled the outside seared and pink under the surface all the way to its core, flavour and seasoning and texture …flawless.
So full was I, that I was unable to sample from what looked like a very comforting and homely selection that included: Rhubarb, apple & cinnamon gateaux, crushed banoffee. All, as I say, beyond my capabilities.
And that is it, another lovely meal out in a very “Now & Happening” spot. My thanks to Chelia and her team for making me welcome and taking such lovely care of me, and thanks too to Robert Newmark for creating a super little spot to drink and dine. If you are in the area book it or be disappointed, it was hopping and heaving and bustling and rustling when I went..
Ciao dudes and dudettes