Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Oxalis at Platform One, East Dulwich

Whenever I see anyone attempting to dismiss a review of a PR-comped meal as somehow unrepresentative or worthless, I think of the Mitchell and Webb show sketch about the fake moon landings:

"Well, to start with, of course, we'll need to build a massive rocket."

"Why? We're not actually going to the moon. I thought that was the point? Have I got this wrong?"

"We'll need a massive rocket, because the first question people will ask when we show them the footage of the moon will be 'How did you get there?'. So we'll have to say, 'we went in that massive rocket you saw'."

"Hmm, so we're not actually going to make any savings on the cost of a massive rocket?"


It's true that if a restaurant knows in advance I'll be reviewing, or even just ups their game when they see a big camera produced, then there's a chance I'll get a better table or won't have to wait as long for my wine glass to be refilled. But really, there are some things you can't fake. A bad kitchen won't suddenly start producing good food as soon as they notice a reviewer in, nor can competent service be magically summoned where no competence exists. Anyone going to the effort of cooking great food and serving it efficiently will be able to do so for everyone, not just the person with the annoying camera or face on a newspaper byline.

With that in mind, I feel more than confident in endorsing Oxalis, who hosted myself and a friend for a couple of very happy hours a few weeks back, and are for the next few months serving one of London's best value tasting menus (£40 for 6 courses) in their home at Platform One on Lordship Lane. First up was a pretty beetroot and goat's cheese starter, with a few gently-pickled onions and some good, earthy dukkah. Not earth-shatteringly innovative, but nice. And there's nothing wrong with nice.

Beef tartare had a good strong flavour and a remarkably light colour - it looked almost like veal. The blobs of yolk dotted around were a nice bit of colour, and the toasted flatbread made a good vehicle for scooping it all up, but the most interesting bit of this dish were the spots of black garlic, which had an intense umami flavour and seasoned the meat superbly. Without the black garlic this would have been a decent tartare; with it, it was memorable.

Egg, bacon and asparagus is, much like the beetroot and goat's cheese, a tried and tested combination, one you'd hardly turn your nose up at but which you may have enjoyed before a number of times. But added to this were small chunks of chicken liver, which lifted it all with an offal richness, plus the bacon was lovely and melty. I think I'd have preferred my asparagus as whole spears instead of chopped up, but this is a minor niggle.

Scallop and chorizo - favourite pairing of the early-rounds Masterchef contestant - was dressed in a nice light hollandaise and used very good, meaty chorizo - at a guess I'd say it was Brindisa, but if it wasn't then it was something to that standard. You'll have noticed by now that all the dishes made use of some very familiar ingredient combinations, and in lesser hands this could have been something to grumble about. But when it's all executed as confidently as this, who cares?

The last of the savoury courses was chicken and the only real - though hardly catastrophic - misstep of the meal. Unfortunately confit chicken needs to be treated very carefully to stop it going dry, and I'm afraid here it was a tad chewy. The grilled baby gem was lovely though, as was a dose of supremely light saffron aioli, and so overall the dish just about got a merit.

Dessert was a hot, fluffy doughnut stuffed with a generous portion of rhubarb coulis, and a nice big slab of powerfully caffeinated semi-freddo. Summer in a dish, and extra points for making use of my favourite fruit. You'd have to do something genuinely disastrous to rhubarb to not make me want to shovel it down by the plateful.

Platform One have hosted a number of exciting foodie ventures over the years, some of which have gone on to notable success. Perilla popped up here a couple of years back, and now have a permanent (and very good) restaurant on Newington Green. And Smoke & Salt who followed them (or did they preceed them? It's all a blur now) have just this month opened in the space vacated by Kricket in the container park Pop Brixton. So whether by luck or design, a stint at this East Dulwich venue seems to be as close to a seal of quality as you're likely to find in London. So, why not make the most of it? They won't be there forever.


Our meal at Oxalis was comped. Apologies for the less than brilliant photos, I was having camera issues that day.


Unknown said...

I don't believe that a PR/comped meal is worthless but I couldn't argue that it creates no bias and I personally take less stock by it.

Having experienced it on both sides there is no substitute for anonymity.

I get it though, in a food scene like London it's unlikely you would ever go here which is generally a positive thing for new independent restaurants.

Alex C said...

Looks nice and just what you want from a railway restaurant, Fancy but not too fancy and not wildly pricey.
Was the ability to extend your rail map of places to eat any temptation to go there?
Also would you have been happy to pay the £35 per head if you'd been asked to?

Chris Pople said...

Alex C: I'm afraid the restaurant tube map is long since dead but yes absolutely I would be more than happy to pay for it. Well worth the money.

Sarah said...

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the menu has significantly changed since you visited, and not for the better unfortunately. No more steak tartar or scallops and bacon but spring onion salad and smoked mackerel dish Iinstead. It was still a nice meal but portions weren't as generous as your photos. We ended up going for a gelato up the road for second dessert as the one provided was a tiny mouthful of cake. I appreciate the chef gets the showcase their dishes with a tasting menu but feel this new version does not have the same appeal as its predecessor.

Anonymous said...

An interesting introduction. In some restaurant in some cities, anecdotally at least, the kitchen does make more of an effort when a well-known reviewer sits down to eat. Admittedly a relatively small extra effort in this case:

Anonymous said...

There are some 'effing bloggers' that always 'dine as guests of the restaurant'.

johnson john said...


Tom said...

Stopped reading about comped meals because they are not fair judgement of a restaurant, it changes things no matter what you claim. I know you're a good person and really just taking advantage of the great opportunities in front of you and to be honest so would I. The issue in this industry is the fakers who wont even declare their free meals, I'm sure we can all think of a few of those.

Anonymous said...

Another example of a restaurant making more of an effort for known reviewers. A great deal more effort!

Anonymous said...

Yet another example of a restaurant making more of an effort for known reviewers. Much more effort in this case!

Anonymous said...

Yet another example of a restaurant making more of an effort for known reviewers. Much more effort in this case!