Wednesday, 7 January 2015
A quirky Modern British restaurant is probably the last thing you expect to find on the King's Road in Chelsea, but there it is anyway, looking right at home nestled in-between the Sloaney clothing shops and candle emporiums, largely because at first glance it looks like either a Sloaney clothing shop or an overpriced candle emporium. It's only when you look closely, spot the tables and chairs inside and the menu on the door that you realise it's not a rustic interiors shop or a branch of Cath Kidson but a restaurant. Some of the customers look slightly bewildered by the situation too, like they've wandered in looking for a jar of mandarin and cinnamon hand wash and ended up being served dinner.
More remarkably given its location, Rabbit isn't half bad at all. Admittedly for Chelsea, "not half bad" means "isn't ludicrously expensive, and isn't entirely populated by people you'd normally cross the street to avoid.", but at least they're trying. Our dinner started with a plate of pretty "mouthfuls", a brown crab "bomb" with lemon and dulse (some kind of seaweed I believe), really just a crab croquette but pleasant enough; a Woodcock paté, fluffy blobs of super-light game liver on melba toast (really rather good); and a "mushroom marmite eclair" which, well, tasted exactly like it sounds - a mini savoury choux pastry filled with mushroom and Marmite.
Rainbow trout tartare was my favourite of the small plates. The fish itself had a good, firm flesh and none of that offputting slimyness you get from cheaper animals. And the accompanying bits and pieces were certainly colourful, and in the case of blobs of chervil mousse leant a refreshing dairy note, almost like cream cheese, but am I wrong in expecting those little clumps of black blobs to be caviar and not, as it turned out, grape seeds? I'm sure they weren't deliberately setting out to trick anyone with faux caviar, but the dissonance between the salty, fishy flavour I was expecting and the more prosaic reality was quite jarring.
"Sticky spatchcock quail" was slightly disappointing not because there was anything in particular wrong with it (apart from more of that fool's caviar) but because I've been spoiled by better (and cheaper) versions elsewhere - Peckham Bazaar, the Table Café, even my local Vietnamese Mien Tay does a version for £6.50 that somehow manages more fire and spice. The Rabbit's quail (this is getting confusing) wasn't terrible, it just needed a bit more love and seasoning.
"Lamb chips" sounds exciting. "Lamb croquettes" less so, so maybe that's why they went with "chips". Slow-cooked lamb inside a breadcrumb casing, resting on a little puddle of harissa. Again, not bad just not quite what I was expecting. I realise I'm risking sounding like I'm picking fault with everything just for the sake of it, but I think at these prices (those two fingers of lamb were £8) I'm entitled to expect a little more pizazz.
Whilst some of the preceeding courses had been faintly disappointing, though, a truffle and mushroom "ragu" was genuinely wrong, mainly because the truffle - great big awkward slabs of it sliced as thickly as chorizo - tasted of absolutely nothing. There was no aroma, and no flavour; they may as well have shaved on candle wax. And that would have been bad enough if the mushrooms themselves weren't desperately underseasoned and accompanied by way too many deep-fried sage leaves that each held about a tablespoon of cold oil. Chefs - if you find your truffle is old or tasteless or just rubbish, don't shave extra on in an attempt to salvage some flavour, just leave it off completely. Then find a better truffle supplier.
Duck liver came with yet more fool's caviar but by this point we knew not to get our hopes up. What let us down here was the duck itself which was mealy and dry, not a fun thing to eat at all. I knew not to expect anything as wonderfully moist and flavoursome as foie gras from any old duck liver, but even so, this didn't seem worth the while slicing it and putting it on a plate.
Desserts were better. Maple syrup pudding with preserved plum (prune, then?) rum and buttermilk had plenty going for it, not least a big punch of hearty bold flavours which had been missing from so much of what preceeded it. And a tongue-in-cheek take on a Wall's Vienetta was good too, layers of salty caramel in between good soft vanilla ice cream.
But you'll have guessed by now where this is going. Rabbit is not a bad restaurant, not by a long stretch - there is talent in the kitchen and front of house, and the dishes are presented with a clever eye on the latest trends (foraging and all that jazz) and a refreshing lack of cynicism. But even so, there are too many mistakes being made to justify the £140 for two with a few glasses of wine that the bill came to - the competition in London elsewhere is just too strong. Rabbit may be a brave step forward for Chelsea, but I can't make excuses for that when I know that the Dairy is only a ten minute cab ride away. And if I had my time again, it's there I'd be spending my dinner money.