Thursday, 24 October 2013
It's not just that a lot of new restaurants have opened in London recently, although those numbers in isolation are still staggering. What's truly impressive is that so many aren't just good, but groundbreaking, serving dishes of supreme skill, sure, but of remarkable ingenuity and with unusual ingredients treated in exciting new ways. Someone recently emailed me asking for my five favourite openings of the past 12 months and narrowing it down to just that many was one of the most difficult exercises I've had to undertake in a long time. Seriously, out of Gymkhana, The Dairy, Toast (East Dulwich), The Clove Club, Peckham Bazaar, Bone Daddies, Hutong, Casse Croute, Smokehouse, One Leicester Street, Newman Street Tavern, Bubbledogs, Duck and Waffle, Sushisamba, and now bloody Mayfields, which five would you choose? It's pretty much impossible.
Yes, Mayfields. It deserves a spot in that hall of champions above for many reasons, but let's start at the beginning. It's a bright, bijou dining space attached to a small kitchen, and if I'm going to be brutal I'd say that some tables are better than others - I certainly wouldn't want to be sat at that one right next to the door once the winter really kicks in, and some of the others are packed pretty close together. But the staff are relentlessly friendly and at least in this small, open space you never have to try hard to attract their attention, so there are benefits.
House bread, fresh sourdough, with a grassy olive oil was very good. It was probably from Bakehouse E5, though I'm happy to be corrected on this.
Seabass ceviche (fantastic fresh fish, gently marinaded) came in a cold watercress soup which had the most extraordinary colour, like dark green ink. The last time I've seen something this colour was a chervil "tea" at El Bulli, but that was disgusting - here it softly enhanced the flavours of the fish without being overwhelming or bitter. Do you hear that, Mayfields? You're better than El Bulli.
Mackerel sashimi and sesame was similarly inventive - and very successful. The toasted seeds and oily fish were actually a really good match, and for £3.50 you got plenty of it.
Duck and pumpkin was nicely seasonal, and prettily presented with some dried citrus and various root vegetables. The duck itself, presumably sous-vided to a perfect pink colour, was seasoned well and had a great texture - you could have almost cut through it with a spoon.
And then the absolute star course, in which every element, flaky white cod, smokey grilled cauli and leeks, some fantastic crispy cabbage of some sort and a marvellous rich olive sauce, combined to produce one of those dishes you will remember for a long, long time. There is some serious talent in the kitchen at Mayfields, and they're not afraid to show it off. This dish, with all its different techniques and ingredients, cost just £10.20. The total bill, with five alcoholic drinks, came to £31/head - they even only added 10% service charge, as if I couldn't have loved them more.
Not so long ago, an opening as profoundly impressive as this would have been the talk of the town. These days, I'm worried their efforts may be lost in the storm of talent that seems to be sweeping every corner of the capital. But given its size and location, perhaps ducking the very brightest glare of the spotlight might do them - and you - a favour. It may just mean you can get a table at a reasonable hour, and that they may avoid the kiss of death of the dreaded Michelin inspectors. Yes, this is yet another astonishing new restaurant for Londoners to get their teeth into. Long may this dazzling trend continue.