Friday 18 August 2023

The Silver Birch, Chiswick

It's a pleasant novelty to, for once, not be opening a post about an excellent neighbourhood restaurant without a resigned grump about the lack of such places in my own particular neighbourhood. Until recently, my fellow SW11 residents had very little to be proud of (and even less so since the wonderful Mien Tay changed ownership, although mercifully so far this doesn't seem to have knocked standards too much), but with the arrival of Ploussard we have been gifted the holy grail of local dining - affordable, seasonal, consistent, and fun. I booked a return more or less as soon as I'd finished my first meal there.

And so to Chiswick, where the lucky locals of this leafy (and commendably cyclist-friendly) part of town have a genuine gem on their hands. The Silver Birch is not brand new, but had the awful initial bad luck of opening between Covid lockdowns in 2020, and by all accounts struggled to find an audience in a time when most people were afraid to leave their front doors never mind sit indoors in a small high street restaurant. But now, with a new head chef (Nathan Cornwall, ex- of the Barn at Moor Hall), a superb new front of house (our waitress introduced herself as Yas) and an ambitious (and yes, slightly more expensive) menu, this is a restaurant supremely confident of its place in the world.

Given that all the items that caught our eye from the a la carte made up the tasting menu, the tasting menu seemed the obvious choice. A few years ago £90 would have marked you out as being at the finer end of fine dining, but these days, just as Thursday is the new Friday, £90 is the new £50. It began with "snacks", cured trout and seaweed tart which had a lovely balance between the seafood and earthy vegetal pureé underneath (plus topped with salmon roe, which I always love), a cute little blue cheese paste sandwiched between delicate parmesan crackers, and my personal favourite pig's head fritters, joyous little parcels of soft, rich pork inside crisp fried breadcrumbs.

The focal point of the next course was some quite excellent sourdough focaccia, with a delightful delicate salty crust and gently sticky crumb. With that, whipped lovage butter provided in such generous amounts that required you put a quite thick layer on the bread to use it up. And you won't hear anyone complaining about that. But the fun didn't end there - there was also a cute little bowl of smoked bacon mousse with pea veloute, colourful and exquisitely constructed. None of the above would look out of place in a restaurant with multiple Michelin stars.

If you look closely at this tartare you may notice that the beef itself is quite light thanks to quite extensive marbling. This is ex-dairy cattle beef, full of flavour and full of yielding, luscious fat, and complimented perfectly by crunchy fresh discs of kohlrabi, cournichon, wee little nasturtium leaves and little blobs of mustard and vegetable pureé of some kind, maybe the advertised sea herbs. For more texture, there was a few shards of house cracker which had herbs baked into them. Every inch of this dish, indeed everything up to this point as well, was considered and carefully crafted, with a strong set of cooking skills put to great use.

Isle of Wight tomatoes, beautifully presented, skinless and sweet and perfectly seasoned, came with a tomato consommé so good it was worth the trip to Chiswick all by itself. If I'm going to be brutally honest it didn't need the pickled artichoke, which was perfectly nice but a bit of a distraction from the tomatoes, and I'm pretty sure I didn't detect any of the advertised pickled cucumber, but what the hell - that wonderful consommé, and the tomatoes, were all I needed.

A huge, bright chunk of Shetland cod came next, expertly cooked (as you might hope and expect) and breaking into nice defined flakes. But we've all had nice cod before, and you may have even had a courgette flower stuffed with scallop mousse, which came alongside it. What really set this dish apart was a thing called "tartare roe sauce", which was a kind of vinaigrette studded with two different types of roe, which sang with seafood and summer flavours. It was one of those sauces that tasted effortlessly good, and yet you know it took a lot of skill to get right.

There are two types of people, one that can read "Cornish lamb, wild garlic, crispy sweetbread, girolles" and think they want to eat that more than anything else in the world right now, and those that don't. I'm one of the former. The lamb was cooked to pink, the sweetbread was coated in another delicate breadcrumb crust (see also: the pig's head snack), and between them nestled girolles, braised shallot, peas and leaves of wild garlic. And of course, it was all soaked in one of those salty, meaty lamb reductions that only the very best places do well. As a climax to the savoury courses, you could not have asked for more.

But even after all that, the desserts still wowed. I'm slightly allergic to raw cherries, so Silver Birch very kindly subsituted that dish out for some equally wonderful (I'm sure) strawberries, with a rich and zingy strawberry sorbet and bound together with "elderflower cream cheese", a very nice invention.

The final dessert was a brown butter chocolate delice, with milk sorbet and caramelised white chocolate, and despite having polished off seven courses by this point, and fed 6 very generously portioned matching wines, it's still burned into my memory as the most beguiling balance of chocolate and dairy, with texture provided both by a lovely fresh milk sorbet and a quiff of spun sugar on top. It, too, was demolished.

What's interesting about tastings like this, and the Silver Birch in particular, is that you could, at first glance, think that you've seen this kind of thing before. Looking at just the basics of the menu - canapes, bread, snack, veg course, fish course, meat course, dessert 1, dessert 2 - it's a structure that informs more or less any modern British tasting menu, a format repeated up and down the country.

What sets the Silver Birch apart from the 2023 restaurant pack isn't that they're revolutionising the way we eat out, or inventing challenging new flavour pairings or wacky techniques, but instead carefully examining every element of what makes a menu like this work, from the choice of ingredients to the accessible presentation to the skill and detail in all of the sauces and dressings and elements, and making each one absolutely the best it can possibly be. It's an obvious way to win the game, and yet one that very few places have the intelligence and skill to pull off.

So yes, the Silver Birch is quite brilliant. The point off full marks is just for the slightly less than exciting choice of fish (I'd seen John Dory and Dover Sole served in that same dish on social media that same week, but maybe that just serves me right for setting my expectations based on social media), but really there was very little else to complain about. As neighbourhood restaurants go, in fact as any restaurants go, it's right up with the best of them. I'm sure it will do very well indeed.


The food at the Silver Birch was comped, but we paid for our wines.


Its me again said...

its been a while
glad your still doing the do.
will hit Coco for curry at the end of the month , gig near by.
read your your review and I'm sold.
places I did last visits to London That were superb
Lisboata 3 hits
Manteca Shoreditch
Seven Dials , Persian(rose lemonade out of this word) El Pollote
Bunsik (I think) corn dog

moi said...

It's been a while since your last post, hope all is well in the land of cheesenbiscuits!