Thursday, 5 March 2015
The World's End Market, Chelsea
The World's End is a building with a long and distinguished history. Well, a long history. It's been on the map since Chelsea was a small farming village a couple of miles from the old City of London, and became such a landmark that it lent its name to that whole end of King's Road. Oh, and eventually a bus stop. You know you've arrived when you've a bus stop named after you.
But the Chelsea of yesteryear was nothing like the playground of oligarchs and Middle Eastern royalty it has become today. The original Five Fields, between Chelsea and Kensington, now the somewhat ironic name of a very fancy restaurant, was a notorious area of crime and deprivation, and even in 1897 when the current building was erected, this was not a smart part of town. In fact, it was pretty rough, and remained fairly working class right up until the 1960s when thrusting young creative types like Mary Quant did for the area in much the same way as the Young British Artists of the 90s did for Shoreditch and Hoxton. So presumably the oligarchs and Saudi princes are something that Shoreditch and Hoxton have to look forward to in the next 50 years. Lucky them.
Anyway, back to Chelsea, and the World's End Market. I admit I only visited the most recent previous incarnation once and found it an unremarkable (and oddly dark) space, making very little of the Victorian gin palace architecture it has been blessed with. Whether you consider the recent revamp as "better" probably depends on what fond memories you have of the old place - I didn't grow up in Chelsea in the 90s and I prefer nice restaurants to Sloany drinking dens, so I quite like the new look. Each to their own.
As for the food, well, someone is at least trying hard. An impressive-looking selection of seafood is laid out on ice next to an open kitchen boasting a Josper grill. A good start. Less impressive were the rather underwhelming cuts of meat displayed in the cabinets in the corridor on the way to the toilets - they looked tiny and swamped by the huge space they were in, although maybe the plan is eventually for these to hold something more substantial. If the effect they were going for is the glorious drying cabinets at Goodman City or Beast, well, they need to contain more than a couple of New York strip steaks.
The next worry is the menu - it's huge, a mistake a lot of new restaurants make in trying to cover every potential corner of their new market to see what sticks, but is just never less than bewildering for us poor customers. Twelve (!) different starters, god knows how many different types of fish and seafood, steaks, sides and sauces, but amusingly just one veggie option - I quite liked that. Oh, and there's a whole 'nother menu just for burgers, lest they miss out on that particular zeitgeist.
Seafood soup was pretty decent, one of those things you suspect isn't particularly technically difficult to make but just involves a lot of time and effort, for which I am most grateful. A beguiling, earthy mix of fish and seafood flavours, possibly involving lobster, and I happily polished it off.
Lemon-cured tuna with ginger, jalapeno chilli & coriander dressing was an interesting and colourful starter. Nicely presented, not too much chilli, and all through it that slightly ceviche-y note of subtly marinated fresh fish.
A 2nd starter ordered as a main was a rather more straightforward tuna tartare, albeit shot through with aubergine and cumin mayonnaise. Many of the starters involved (mainly) raw fish so this is clearly where this kitchen's talents lie...
...because I'm not entirely sure they lie in the preparation of beef, at least not yet. My steak needed a much hotter oven in order to get a nice dark crust on instead of the soft, pallid grey we ended up with. They may have splashed out on a Josper grill but that's only half the battle; next you need to know how to use it, and this was cooked so slowly it may well have just been done on the hob. In fact, maybe it was. This was doubly disappointing as you could tell the beef itself was pretty good, from Surrey apparently with a good grass-fed taste and plenty of fat. But if the beef was disappointing the "peppercorn sauce" it came with was genuinely horrid, thin and pale and with about as much flavour as a jug of dishwater. I can't imagine the set of events that led to this rank liquid being served to customers, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it won't happen again.
Of the desserts, chocolate fondant was the best but then it's pretty hard to mess up chocolate fondant. The ones you can get in the little boxes from Waitrose are nice if you don't overcook them. Vanilla ice cream was churned well to thick and smooth though, which was good.
Hazelnut and caramel cheesecake sounded like a good idea at first, except I don't think they should have embedded the nuts in the cake itself as they'd gone offputtingly soggy by the time it came to opening the little Kilner jar and eating them. A much better idea would have been to roast the nuts to order and put them in at the last minute, then they would have stood a chance of being nice and crunchy and toasty. But hark at me, giving cooking advice to a professional kitchen. Maybe they were supposed to be the consistency of pickled garlic. Who knows.
There we are anyway and there the World's End Kitchen is, despite the early weeks' flaws still probably better than you can do in much of this part of town. In fact it's still only really Medlar (just a short walk away) that's a reason in itself to visit Chelsea for a meal, and I can't see that changing any time soon. So if you have to be wandering down King's Road with £45 or so (I assume) burning a hole in your pocket and want some nice fresh fish, or a cocktail or two, then you may as well give it a go. After all, it's a long walk to Shoreditch.
I was invited to review the World's End Market