Wednesday, 24 November 2010
The Glasshouse, Kew
The Glasshouse is what I think I'm supposed to call a "local" or "neighbourhood" restaurant, although exactly why this curious title is applied to some places and not others has never really been explained to me. Surely every restaurant is local to somewhere? If you lived in Mayfair you could call Le Gavroche your neighbourhood restaurant, in Chelsea it could be Royal Hospital Road. Why is Chez Bruce (Wandsworth) a local restaurant but not Rules (Covent Garden)? Lamberts (Balham) but not Polpo (Soho)? Anyway, last night I ventured out to Kew, which sounds remote enough to be a challenge but was actually only 20 minutes or so from Clapham Junction and in the end felt surprisingly... what's the word... oh yes, local.
It's a nice little room, bright and airy and evidently very popular. The staff were as numerous as they were pleasant, and despite a couple of issues with timing we couldn't really complain about service at all; the sommelier, in particular, had an infectious enthusiasm for Italian wines and helped choose a very nice Malbec to go with our mains. Before that, though, starters, and a very strange issue with the Glasshouse menu. Reading "Grilled mackerel and miso, oyster dressing, shiso leaf and crispy squid" I immediately thought of the brilliant mackerel dish at the Ledbury, and although I wasn't expecting anywhere near that standard of cooking all the ingredients, at least, were there and I thought it might be worth giving it a go. What arrived was this:
That's grilled mackerel (check) and shiso leaf (check), next to chopped squid (check) in what is best described as a spring roll with a quiff. And there the similarities to the menu description ended. The mackerel was on a bed of creamed cabbage of some sort, and the whole dish was dressed with an incredibly sweet and powerfully orangey sauce, which while by no means unpleasant was still a million miles from what I had been led to expect. By far the dominant flavour was orange, which wasn't even in the description, and there was absolutely no sign of the oyster and miso elements at all. I can't remember the last time I'd noticed such a discrepancy between a menu description and the final dish, but the fish had a nice tasty flesh and the squid was moist and while I'd have liked a crispy skin on the mackerel I still enjoyed it. Odd, though.
Main course was far more predictable, and far more enjoyable. Lovely moist breast fillets of partridge, with a little lollipop of confit leg meat, was dressed with artichokes, crispy bacon bits and chestnuts. Best of all, instead of providing a more traditional side portion, the Glasshouse had somehow cleverly turned the bread sauce into several bite size pockets hidden around the dish, which burst in the mouth to reveal a bready paste inside. Great fun.
I had heard great things about the Glasshouse cheese selection, so instead of a sweet dessert we ordered two cheese courses. My one complaint was that many of the softer cheeses were served far too cold - particularly the Epoisses and the Stinking Bishop which you could cut like cake rather than, as is more normal, being forced to scoop out the flesh with a spoon and catch it briefly on a cracker before it dribbles onto the floor. When they were good though, some of these cheeses were bloody brilliant. There was a "Roquefort"-style blue, made with cow's milk instead of sheep's, which had a lovely balance of creaminess and salt, a number of fantastic goat's whose unpasteurised flesh tasted of farmyards and countryside, but towering over all these simply the most perfect slice of Comté I've ever had in my life. It was rich, powerfully nutty, salty and fresh, in perfect condition and at the perfect temperature, its flesh giving a deep complexity and gently firm bite. Amazing.
Despite the menu lottery, and some cold cheeses, you can see where your £45 goes at the Glasshouse. It's a comfortable and comforting place to spend an evening, the friendly staff and good food combining into a big soft embrace of a restaurant, and it does, at least, deserve both the Michelin star and the custom from happy locals - there's that word again - that has sustained it in this spot for over a decade. I can definitely see myself hopping on the tube here again, and although I'm not quite close enough (or, let's face it, wealthy enough) to call myself a Kew local, well, I can always pretend.