Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Joy at Portobello, Ladbroke Grove

As far as I understand it, Joy is the name of a seasonal popup occupying the restaurant Flora, itself part of the Portobello Dock development. If it helps, you may want to just refer to it as the Dock Kitchen, because that's the name it had for eight years until 2017, when it was sadly shut down. Because not only has the space been brought back to life and brightly reimagined, incorporating a stall selling fruit & veg from the marvellous Goods Shed in Canterbury and a large, attractive outdoor terrace, but it also has back at the helm chef Stevie Parle who first made a name for himself here all those years ago.

I never got to eat at Dock Kitchen myself, but I remember the Hotdinners guys telling me that they'd had one of the best meals of their lives there once, and these are people that eat out even more than I do. So I'm going to pretend that Dock Kitchen never closed, and that the current menu at Joy - seasonal, British-Mediterranean dishes incorporating some very interesting seafood options - represents a continuation of the kind of thing that Parle was cooking back in the days when "post-Theatre" meant the time of evening, not a post-apocalyptic era, and social distancing was just something that happened after you embarrassed yourself at parties.

Our dinner began with some excellent sourdough and butter, and a negroni, and I can't think of many better ways to kick off a dinner than that. Also, eating outside on the terrace at Joy has the dual benefit of being nice and Covid-compliant but also great for photos - the late summer sun really brings out the colours.

Clams with guinciale and peas were every bit as good as they looked, and I recommend using the supplied sourdough to mop up the winey seafood sauce left at the bottom of the bowl. In fact, I'll go further - it would be criminal not to.

My trip to Cornwall, where I would be served some of the best fish and seafood I've ever eaten in my life, came a couple of days after this meal at Joy. Had it been before, I would have been even less forgiving of these sad things, scrambled into grey mush and seemingly containing just as much splintered shell as edible flesh. In the spirit of constructive criticism, just take a bit more care opening them next time and they'll be fine. Have a look at my Tolcarne Inn post for an impeccable example.

Fortunately, the next arrival more than made up for it. A whole, giant lobster with claws the size of saucers, studded with chunks of lardo and dressed in rosemary butter. It had been grilled directly over coals, a technique as risky as it is rewarding, but luckily whoeever was in charge of the process at Joy knew exactly what they were doing - the flesh was timed perfectly, the odd parts of charred shell only adding to the fun of extracting the meat, and the 20 minutes or so I spent extracting every last bit of meat I could from every last leg and joint was pure bliss.

I ended dinner with a little farewell wave to summer, strawberries and cream, incorporating little shards of meringue and topped with dahlia petals. I polished it off completely, a task even more impressive if you'd seen how much lobster I'd just eaten.

This being an invite (thank you Frances) I didn't see a bill, but a quick glance at the menu online reveals a mostly very decently priced menu indeed, with one exception - the lobster. Because £32 for a lobster that must have been the best part of a kilo is a ridiculous bargain - you could barely get it that cheap alive - and I have absolutely no idea how they're making any money on that at all. Maybe they're not. Mind you, I don't think anyone's making any money at the moment full stop.

I won't end on another miserable rant about Corona and curfews though, there's been more than enough of that already. Joy at Portobello is exactly that - a joyful experience in a joyful space, and the odd misstep aside definitely worth the money they're asking and then some. Boosted by sparkling service (particularly from one front of house I spotted ex- of the sadly-departed Ledbury) and with the tantalising opportunity to pick up some stunning Kentish fruit & veg on your way out, it's impossible not to love the place. Go while you can, and go often.


I was invited to Joy at Portobello and didn't see a bill.

1 comment:

Its me again, yes I am realy that old said...

Another good review, I think it was The Dock I ate at, but Meera Sodha was doing a take over there, realy good. Covid permitting I'm near Ladbrook Grove soon, for Core, seriously looking forward to it, last time I had Clare's food was at RHR Gordon Ramsay, amazing meals.
Ladbrook Grove is famous for the band "Hawkwind" their best selling 70s album "Hall of the Mountain Grill" was about a cafe (going Shepherds Bush way)where Bowie and other stars frequented, without it becoming pretentious. It was (last time I looked) called Killer Tomato (I ate some reasonably good Mexican at KT). Keep em coming .