Monday, 14 May 2018

Wellbourne, White City

Despite never having been to White City Place before, the vibe of the place felt eerily familiar. Originally a collection of BBC buildings, the writing was on the wall for them remaining so as soon as the price of a two-bed flat in Zone 2 spiked over £750,000 and so today they've transformed into yet another one of those wipe-clean reimaginings of a public space, still technically public domain but heavily stacked with lots of lovely investor-friendly residential blocks. See also: Battersea Power Station, Stratford Olympic Village, and so on.

Of course, though billions are to be made in residential housing, not even an absentee Saudi landlord would want to own property in a windswept concrete jungle with only a branch of Tesco Express and a Pret for entertainment, so more often than not these developments offer a sweet rent deal for half-decent restaurants, so they can pretend to be a normal functioning neighbourhood at least for as long as it takes to flog the apartments above. So Battersea Power station boasts - for now - a (very nice too) branch of Wright Bros, Stratford Olympic Village has Darkhorse (which hosted a popup by Henry Harris while he was between Racine and Coach, Clerkenwell stints) and now BBC Media Village - sorry, White City Place - has Wellbourne.

Wellbourne is, objectively, a nice restaurant. True, at first glance the menu appears to be rather unfocused, with various French, Italian, Spanish and Middle Eastern elements vying for attention, but anywhere serving Ibérico secreto and veal Holstein clearly have a bit of ambition about them, and with a Josper-style charcoal oven in the kitchen they've at least been able to spend some money on equipment to - in theory - make the most of it.

All of which may even have not been enough to tempt me to W12 were they not able to offer a type of cow I'd not seen on a menu before - 50-day-aged "Simmental" beef from HG Walter, a butcher already in my good books for supplying the astonishingly good burgers served by Harris at the aforementioned Coach in Clerkenwell. So with that, I hopped on the Central Line.

Before the steak though, some vol-au-vents. Every restaurant needs a USP, and it seems the team at Wellbourne (including the most affable Michael Kennedy who was in the kitchens the evening of my visit) have pinned their hopes on the humble vol-au-vent making a comback. And why not, because these were perfectly lovely little things, boasting good buttery casings and intelligent, well-seasoned fillings of lamb shoulder and mustard, salt cod, and (my favourite) broad beans, sheep's cheese and mint.

That I enjoyed my steak as much as I did is testament mainly to the quality of the raw ingredient, as I had various issues with the way it was presented. By all means serve steak on the bone - it's my preferred cut - but if you're going to cut it off said bone before serving, do not then re-grill the steakless bone (!?) to remove all trace of nice pink flesh, and do not drape the filleted beef over the bone on the plate, like it had all been dropped from the ceiling. Added to this, there wasn't enough of a crust or colour on the steak itself, which ended up looking a bit sad and flabby.

But! But. It still tasted great. This was clearly very good beef, and despite all the indignity it had suffered in the cooking process still managed to boast a dense, rich funkiness that only the most carefully-aged cow can. Simmental, interestingly, are mixed-use cattle that can be used for dairy or beef, much like the Galician breeds you find in so many trendy Spanish steakhouses these days (Lurra, Sagardi) and I don't know whether it's just a happy coincidence that this happens to chime with exactly what I'm looking for in a steak, or there's something about ex-dairy cattle that makes incredible beef, but I was more than impressed.

Veal Holstein was also a good example of its sort, carefully and prettily presented, tender veal schnitzel seasoned with good strong anchovies. And at the risk of repeating myself, how nice that a new bistro like this is making the effort to do something a bit unusual rather than filling the menu with burgers and Ceasar salads as I'm sure they could easily have done.

Oh yes, chips were very nice - neat and golden brown with a good crunch - though I preferred dipping them in a red wine jus than something called "bois boudrin" which had all the personality of cold Doritos salsa.

Fortified by good meat, as well as a glass of very good Napa red from their Coravin system, we felt comfortable enough to stay for desserts. "Dolce[sic] de leche" ice cream sandwich was excellent, soft inside without a trace of crystallisation, and with a nice salty crunchy biscuit. So too, lemon leaf sorbet which had loads of citrus punch and a smooth texture. The less said about the attempt to pair the ice cream with a dry manzanilla sherry, though, the better - a sweet port, hastily substituted, soon put things right.

Overall, then, there was enough to enjoy, and though clearly I can't be giving top marks to anywhere serving steak like that (if you like, see how different it looks on the restaurant's own website - wait for the 3rd slide), the quality made up for some of the texture and you can still do a lot worse for the same price elsewhere. Whether it will survive in this strange, lonely spot once the rents go up - we were one of two tables taken all evening - remains to be seen, but it's probably no safer than anywhere else in London at the moment, Saudi investors or no Saudi investors. So better just make the most of it all while we can.


I was invited to Wellbourne and didn't see a bill, though I imagine all of the above would have come to about £50/head or so.

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