Tuesday 22 November 2022

40 Maltby Street, Bermondsey

40 Maltby Street sits alongside places like Quality Chop House and the French House in that special category of restaurants used as a kind of shorthand amongst food-obsessed types in order to prove they know what they're talking about. Like Quality Chop House and the French House, too, it's popular but not wildly so - it's never particularly difficult to get a table if you plan ahead properly, and as the first people through the door one Saturday lunchtime at midday, we didn't have any problem finding a couple of spaces at the bar - but I very much got the impression our fellow diners were the kind of people used to travelling - and waiting - for modern British small plates.

The menu - shown only on a blackboard so take a photo with your phone on the way in - is tasteful, reasonably-priced and full of the kind of ingredients (pheasant, salt cod, and so on) that only a confident kitchen can handle. And the confidence of the kitchen is all the more remarkable given its tininess - barely enough room for one person to manage deep-fryers, stoves, ovens and Lord knows what else, but seemingly more than able to cope with a medium-sized menu and about 40 or so covers with practised ease.

Bread is an excellent sourdough and salty, pleasingly darkly yellow butter, and is provided completely free of charge. 40MS don't even add service onto the bill at the end - clearly this is a place comfortable in its ability to guarantee a decent spend per head by virtue of just being good as opposed to forcing hidden extras.

Cheddar puffs came as a kind of cheese mousse nugget, golden brown and crisp on the outside and fluffy and salty inside, a winning combination of textures helped by being fried to order and piping hot. Plenty of them, too, for your £6.

Salt cod was very wet, almost the consistency of porridge but absolutely all the better for it, a kind of seafood sauce underpinning the grilled leeks. Walnuts added a bit of crunch, and a handful of wet herbs on the top finished it all off nicely.

White beans and turnips was an imaginative and colourful vegetarian dish, involving a fantastically punchy aioli and some incredibly moreish leaves of crunchy fried broccoli. The beans themselves were the star of the show though, buttery and richly flavoured and soaked in a light vegetable gravy of some kind.

Finally pheasant, a notoriously uncooperative bird, came cured of its worst tendencies to dryness by being poached in buttermilk then fried in batter. Raw cabbage was an interesting if not entirely successful accompaniment (I think braised or buttered would have worked better, but I can see they were sticking with the deconstructed chicken burger thing by using raw) but a little scoop of quince jam was very lovely indeed, and of course the pheasant itself was a beautiful texture inside and out, the batter being delicate and thin, and the meat inside having a nice bite.

The bill with plenty of booze (a bottle of fizzy natural red between two, and two extra glasses of white to start) still came to under £100, so £110 ish once we'd added on our own 12.5%. If you didn't go quite so mad on the wine you could easily get away with about £30pp, but of course the whole point of places like this is to settle in for a bit of a session, work your way slowly through the menu and wine list and eventually emerge back on to the streets of London wondering why, if you started at midday, is it already going dark.

40 Maltby Street is all of London's best restaurant instincts served in a professional, friendly package for a very reasonable amount of money. This is not my first visit, of course - I've been a happy customer for many years, and can report they're just as happy for you to have a glass of wine and some cheese and be back out of the door in 15 minutes as they are for you to commit to a full 6-course lunch with multiple glasses of wine. Flexibility is at the heart of their offering, and means there are, happily, multiple different ways to enjoy your time there. Find one that suits you, and make the most of it, is my advice.


No comments: