On a dark and stormy night in November, six friends sought shelter in a pub as they waited for their late night reservation at Notting Hill restaurant The Shed. But this wasn’t just any pub, or so they soon realised.
Whilst there, charismatic Head Chef Jesse Dunford Wood tried to persuade the friends to stay, offering a tempting menu of Chicken Kiev, Cow Pie and Game, along with a few free ‘tasters’. The friends struggled with the decision, but eventually agreed to stick to the original plan. An error, as it turned out.
Throughout their disappointing dinner at The Shed, the friends felt a mutual sadness, only made worse when Jesse’s face appeared at the window. From that moment, they knew they’d have to return to The Mall Tavern.
Two months later… the friends found themselves sitting around a table in The Mall Tavern kitchen, ready to receive a surprise menu that would change the way they viewed dinner forever (their words not mine).
Now that I’ve set the scene, I’ll move onto the food, all made by Chef George and his marvellous team. We didn’t know what was in store, but as soon as we saw a KitchenAid sitting at the end of our table, we knew there would be ‘interactive’ fun.
The first course came with a challenge – to make The Mall Tavern’s famous soda bread. Camouflaged ingredients were scattered across the table so, with a little help from George, we made and moulded our bread, before popping it in the oven to bake.
Whilst we waited, it was time for Game Tea, Homemade Crumpets and Blackberry Butter. The tea had the flavour of really meaty gravy, minus the grease and thickness.
The crumpets were light and spongy, the butter sweet like jam.
By now our bread was ready, so we tore off hot, doughy pieces, covering them in butter. The treacle gave the bread a strong flavour with a hint of sweetness – a perfect base for the pub’s brilliant salmon cured in dark brown sugar and salt.
After a few crispy rulers of pork scratching dipped in smooth apple sauce, it was George’s turn to tell a story, this time concerning an old lady from Somerset. The lady’s name is Mary. Each week she drives up to London with a presumably dead pig, which she gives to The Mall Tavern. The pig is then used to make a variety of dishes, including our next course: brawn cakes dramatically served in the pig’s skull.
The cakes were divine. Crispy on the outside, succulent within. It was sort of like a pulled pork fish cake (if that makes sense). Fantastic.
I’d say I was now 3/4 full, but I couldn’t resist the next plate of deep fried brie and cranberry sauce. This dish is a classic, so I was pleased they hadn’t tampered with it. I was also pleased to see how big the slices were.
Up next was a roasted butternut squash salad, served with fresh, creamy ricotta. Another trusted combination, made all the more special by its fish kettle platform.
After we’d eaten bread, game tea, crumpets, brawn cakes, smoked salmon, butternut squash salad and fried brie, plus the yummy chestnut hummus, rosemary pitta and smoked salmon mousse I haven’t had a chance to mention, George felt it was time for some eggs.
When the carton of six topped eggs appeared in front of us, I thought we were facing another cooking challenge. Instead, the yolk had already been removed and cooked, before going back in the shell and covered with a fish consume. Each egg could be swallowed like an oyster, drunk through a straw or, in my case, thrown all over your lap.
I smelt like Nemo, which was upsetting to say the least. But, the sight of a giant silver serving platter made me forget my misdemeanour…
Under the lid sat a feast of Game, including wild mallard ducks, widgeon, grey legged English partridge, roasted pheasant and confit duck legs, all served with poached quince, crispy bread pudding balls and an array of seasonal vegetables. A rare treat. All perfectly cooked.
As if we hadn’t seen enough, the magic really started with dessert. George rolled a long sheet of white greaseproof paper down the centre of our table before dimming the lights and playing Pure Imagination by Willy Wonka.
To the rhythm of the music, George and his team decorated the paper with everything from toasted marshmallow and truffles, to four different types of arctic roll and pipings of chocolate sauce.
The theatrical performance made our evening. And eating everything afterwards was just the icing on the cake (so to speak).
With drinks and tip, our meal came to around £70 a head. A lot, but also a bargain – we had more courses than I can count on my fingers and each one was brimming with creativity, humour and flavour. More than any other place I’ve been to, I urge you to go to book The Kitchen Table at The Mall Tavern as I’m sure you won’t regret the experience.
Unsurprisingly, The Kitchen Table at The Mall Tavern gets a LLE Rating of 9.5 / 10. Thanks to Jesse for persuading us to go, and to George for being such a good sport.
The Mall Tavern, 71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace, Notting Hill Gate, London W8 4RY