In the The Gilbert Scott and Kitchen W8 I could not have picked two more different restaurants to juxtapose. Where The Gilbert Scott vomits grandeur in its enormous setting at St Pancras, Kitchen W8 is a small and unremarkable space lurking down a quiet street in Kensington. Where The Gilbert Scott is marred by impressively poor quality of service, the staff at Kitchen W8 are generally (with one or two exceptions I will mention in a bit) extremely responsive, well spoken and discreet.
It is in the cuisine that I found the two places not so far apart. Although my meal at Kitchen W8 was presented with superior artistry, it tasted ordinary for its class (1 Michelin star awarded this year).
The first thing you will notice when you visit will be the prices. Our three course set lunch set us back a barely perceptible £19.50 per head.
Wines are reasonably priced, although only a few whites are available by the glass (the rest by bottle only), which could prove restricting for a lone diner. Thankfully there were three of us on this occasion, and we picked a bottle of Gruner Veltiner (£38.00) from Wagram, Austria, to share. The set lunch menu, with its fish and poultry, seemed to recommend a white. The wine was above average with floral notes on the nose and faintly sweet on the palette.
Brother, mother and I all found our starter, a raviolo of ham hock in a pea veloute, pleasant. The ham hock stuffing bore a taste and texture not too dissimilar from a well cooked sausage. Thin ribbons of cabbage added a nice hint of crunch. Overall this course was very easy to eat. There was nothing awkward about it and none of the flavours clashed at all. But that’s as far as it went. None of the ingredients packed any punch, especially the veloute, which only contributed essential moisture.
My main course, a jambonette of chicken with herb spatzle, girolles and an almond and truffle pesto, did not wow me either. Like the ham hock in my starter, the dominant flavour here came from a single component – the chicken, which was tender, juicy and moreish. The rest of the dish was neutral and earthy, which again left me wanting.
Brother and mother’s main course of haddock, crayfish and crushed jersey royals was the best presented dish of the day, finished with an obvious flair. Both seemed to enjoy it. I began to suspect that I had either picked the wrong dishes, or my taste buds were malfunctioning.
Up to this point, the restaurant was almost empty, but slowly now, more diners began to trickle in. The speed of service very quickly and irritatingly slowed, almost to a halt. It seemed there were simply not enough hands on deck.
My dessert of strawberry and elderflower soup finally delivered a straightforwardly fruity kick to the tongue, and was unveiled by the waiter with a smooth pour of the soup over the ice cream, which was at first alone in the centre of the wide bowl.
The soup licked at the sides of the ice cream and swirled to form a sparkly marble effect. This course was incredibly refreshing, but, once again, lacked pizazz. The triplet of madelines on a side plate were a complete waste of effort, especially as I find the texture of spongy puddings like these absolutely revolting. I forced myself to swallow one, then ignored the others.
Brother and mother seemed delighted with their vanilla panacotta served with shortbread, assorted berries and a scoop of basil ice cream. I tasted a small spoonful and agreed with brother that the combined tastes were redolent of a herb scented garden. I tested these remarks this morning by picking a sprig from a geranium (just past first flowering) and eating it. The test results were far from positive.
To conclude our lunch we partook of tea and coffee. My cappuccino and brother’s americano were satisfactory, but mother’s english breakfast tea, she said, was much too weak. Chocolates, served on a saucer, were deliciously gooey on the inside, with an acceptable nuttiness.
I twice tried to hail a waiter for the bill, but either because of my timid mouse-like nature or because they weren’t paying attention (the place was rather busy by this point), I failed. We waited a full ten minutes in a mood of moderate frustration before I commanded brother to “take care of it”, at which point we were noticed, and served shortly thereafter.
As snail-like as the service became later on, I don’t hold a grudge. In fact my lasting memory of the staff will be of their generally excellent attentiveness. They just need one or two more waiters on station during the lunch hour.
It was the food, I felt, that really let the experience down. In this aspect Kitchen W8 is, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, just barely worthy of its star. There was nothing bad or offensive about what was on offer, and ultimately it does represent supreme value for money, but I wasn’t blown away at any point.
From the restaurant we sojourned through the expansive and beautiful Hyde Park. A dog with shaggy black fur (I’ve no idea what breed) approached us and greeted us warmly. I thought this was a nice touch.
Anyhoo, Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel had been on my list to visit for a long time, ever since I read some glowing reviews of it online at World’s Best Bars. The venue did not disappoint. The Lanesborough’s lobby and long halls are opulently furnished with luxurious sofas, armchairs and statues.
We were directed to the bar, which is immediately to the left as you enter the main hall. The walls of the bar are decorated with books, or at least what seemed to be books – we couldn’t tell for sure whether we were, in part at least, being given the IKEA fake book treatment. There are some neat little alcoves too, but we chose a table by the window.
The service was a tad slow, but we managed to fit two drinks each into an hour, or thereabouts. My first was called The Godfrey – a sweet combination of grand marnier, cognac and creme de mure. It went down very smoothly, but I found it hard to detect the alcohol content. A good start but in need of some inspiration, I thought.
Brother’s Space Race—a pretty mix of vodka, lychees, cointreau, guava and cranberries—also came off of the Library Bar’s own collection of recipes. It was dry and hefty compared to The Godfrey. It was more up my alley, and I felt like asking for a swap.
Mother’s more expensive champagne cocktail, which I cannot remember the name of, did not meet with approval. I had a sip and concurred that it was no good. I have yet to enjoy a champagne-based drink other than plain champagne, but will of course keep you posted if and when it happens.
Second drinks included a respectable ‘classic’ daiquiri, an attractive non-alcoholic invention called the Strawberry Field, and my own first try of a caipirinha (pictured above), which was a success – delivering a welcome dry bitterness and a strong punch of lime.
All of this came with some decent nibbles, including some very large olives. Brother’s cocktails, and mine, were priced £13.50, a pound or two too high if you ask me. If you don’t ask me, I’ll just carry on eating my nibbles.