Thursday 1 June 2017

Summers, Kilburn

Pop quiz! What do the following restaurants have in common:

Hereford Road
Anchor and Hope
32 Great Queen Street
The Canton Arms
The Camberwell Arms
The Marksman
...and possibly a great many more that I can't quite bring to mind at the moment?

The answer is, as well as being fine ways to while away a lunchtime, they all have direct links to St. John, surely one of the most important and influential restaurants to have ever existed in the capital. Alumni of this hallowed, whitewashed spot in Farringdon have spread far and wide through London and beyond, taking with them a passion for seasonal British produce, the desire to fill their menus with unusual cuts of offal and game (the "nose-to-tail" philosophy), and - perhaps more importantly than anything else - a cool confidence in stripped-back, no-nonsense presentation which informs just as much the attitude of the front of house as anything on the plate.

It seems extraordinary not only that one restaurant has so many direct descendants but that so many of them - in fact pretty much all you'd care to mention - are so incredibly good. Look back on the blog for reviews of any in that list above and you'll find places of class and charm, serving seasonal modern British food that has come to define what it means to eat out in London in these past 10-15 or so bewildering, game-changing years.

Perhaps, then, knowing that head chef Ruairidh (pronounced "Rory") Summers, who has leant his surname to this charmingly bare-bones operation above an Irish pub on Kilburn High St, was previously sous at St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields is enough of a qualification in of itself. He's ex- St. John, so of course it's going to be good. What else do you need to know? Just get yourself a booking, hop on the Jubilee line and enjoy an evening of bright, seasonal modern British food. It's that simple.

Well, OK, if you insist, some highlights. We ate the entire menu so maybe I won't go into exhaustive detail on every dish, but I'll point out some of the must-order items, beginning with the house pickles, colourful and crisp with a perfect sweet-sour balance.

Cod's roe and radishes on toast, smooth as silk with bags of salty seafood flavour.

If I was to make one criticism of these asparagus it would be that the Ogleshield cheese hadn't quite been given enough heat on top; it would have been nice to have them draped in gooey melted cheese. However the spears themselves were wonderfully cooked - ever-so-slightly charred and with a good bite - and the layer of toasted pine nuts added a lovely malty note.

Ox heart, perfectly seasoned and tender, draped over a few pieces of artichoke hearts and dressed with green herbs, is the kind of dish that would make Fergus Henderson himself proud. These announced their arrival on the table with a heady aroma of grilled cow, the kind of thing you'd only normally experience in a top steakhouse, and even then not very often.

All the food at Summers is, as inspired by St John, unpretentious and accessible, but not to be confused with "simple". "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!", Dolly Parton famously said, and it surely takes a huge amount of skill and experience to know what to meddle with and what to leave well alone, to know how to do just enough to let the ingredients sing. This piece of hake was a fish masterclass; a delicate, golden brown skin, a dense, meaty flesh of bright white. It speaks of someone who knows exactly what to do to a good piece of fish but also what not to do, and just leave it there, beaming and brilliant on a bed of foraged seaside succulents.

Desserts are a side of the menu that I'm assured will get more attention and menu space as Summers settles into its space, but even now are off to a fantastic start. Egg tart with rhubarb was a typically St. John and solidly traditional pud, the body-temperature custard framed by a delicate biscuit crust, and the poached rhubarb presented in cute square chunks.

But even better was the strawberry ice cream, a more impressive example I've not found in many years here or abroad. The flavour was so astonishingly concentrated, the hit of jammy summer fruit so overwhelming, that it tasted something close to a sorbet, only a sorbet with that extra luxurious layer of soft, buttery dairy. The last time I ate something as affecting as this was a raspberry sorbet at Little Barwick House in Somerset, and that's probably no coincidence - there, too, was a singularly talented chef making the absolute most of peak summer fruit. Quite a thing. Quite a thing indeed.

With each new exciting opening by a St John alumnus (I've written about two now in the last couple of months) there's the hint of a temptation to get blasé about these things; that as each next corner of our city gets its own delightful little gastropub to call its own that we run the risk of getting used to the idea. Well, good. We should be getting used to the idea. Each corner of London, from Lewisham to Kilburn, from Islington to Stockwell, deserves a Summers - there should be one in every postcode, one pitstop on every commute home from work, somewhere to drink nice wine and enjoy good food and prove that London is the greatest food city on earth, like we always knew it was. And for all this, we have St. John to thank.


I was invited to Summers and didn't pay


Of course it's me again said...

I remember when it was all beer:)
Looks good, glad to see pubs doing decent food. We now have a local that is OK/good. There is some great food, music around, not sure what our politicians are going to this scenario. I think good music comes from bad political scenes, perhaps now good food is also an answer. I hope now Boris has f?cked off and Sadiq is Mayor we will see late license/allnight at "Streetfeast" etc. Yeah I'm a big fan of The Hendersons, Eccles Cakes and the rest.

Anonymous said...

Your pictures are excellent as always but in this case it's hard to tell. Was it hard or soft roe with the radishes?