Friday, 15 July 2011

Dock Kitchen (at Portobello Dock)

I was never that enthused by the whole pop-up thing, I don’t really know why – maybe a preconceived notion that places would be ramshackle, gimmicky or perhaps even gone by the time I turned up…but I never had much interest.

But on hearing about Dock Kitchen’s elevation to a permanent eatery, my interest piqued. The site of Virgin Records for as long as I can remember, and a partnership with designer Tom Dixon who is supposedly moving into the water tower and has a small store here, this is anything but ramshackle.
You enter either from the bridge down a little alleyway, or through the courtyard where a huge suntrap terrace and burgeoning tomato and herb plants await you. There are piles of fruit and veg, and it definitely feels like a market kitchen.

At night there is an a la carte menu or a themed option. Previous themes of Catalan, Provence or Old Fashioned Italian have me quite excited. Unfortunately, our evening features an English foraging menu with an assortment of fungi, wild flowers and little known leaves, and sea vegetables such as samphire and some other pilfered nonsense. This is enthusiastically sold by a presumably ex-cubs waiter but it is a bit of a turd-polishing exercise frankly.

So our party of four press on with the a la carte, which features a prosciutto, black fig and buffalo mozzarella salad starter. Three of us have this, and it is absolutely spot on.

The ham is silky, delicious and plentiful, the figs are fresh and the mozzarella is beyond creamy and full of flavour (sometimes I think it tastes of nothing). This is the perfect summer dish, and the River Café comparisons start thick and fast. I could just have another portion of this with a bit of bread and some rosé, and die happy...
indian clam broth

The fourth, now rather envious diner, chose an Indian broth with various clams and mussels – nicely spiced, well-proportioned and interesting.

lamb chops

On to mains – the North Indian lamb chops are very well cooked, with a dollop of yoghurt and some saag aloo. This is a well put together dish and nicely pink, but it was lacking star quality and didn’t really show off the freshness, sourcing and simplicity of the Dock Kitchen.

The hake was excellent, our most popular main whereas the beef shin with broad bean salads was, as with the lamb chops, well-cooked but not exciting. Sometimes when a dish is just decent, each mouthful becomes the same and soon enough it’s an arduous task to finish. This probably had too many broad beans to remain on the right side of the generous/repetitive divide.

beef and broad beans

Desserts are great – a fantastically seasonal and adventurous selection of sorbets and ice creams, and a fig tart which is amazing. Crème fraiche though?! Surely there exists no dessert not enhanced by a cheeky scoop of vanilla? 

The service is good, the décor is a Tom Dixon shrine which is no criticism, with nice views of the both the kitchen and the expectedly loud and boozy clientele. It’s airy albeit narrow, but huge windows and the large open courtyard over water canal ensure a feeling of space and light. I’d love to come back for a sunny Saturday al-fresco lunch.

I think this particular evening, we were a tad let down by our mains. I think the Dock Kitchen’s best angle would be one akin to The River Café, and recent newcomers such as Zucca - simple, fresh, summery food. This is July, the broths and Indian lamb chops should be saved for winter.

Bust out some fillet tagliata or ossobuco, and maybe some Spanish tomatoey fish dishes! Seasonal is important, but so is teleporting diners away to a happier place. In summer, that means sunny food and the Med is the easiest to keep seasons with. The Dock Kitchen is simultaneously upmarket and effortlessly relaxed, in a very Notting Hill way. It’s passionate if a bit too earnest, but priced seriously and professionally run.

The eclectic approach and effete themes may get the initial column inches, but gimmicks and culinary schizophrenia won’t keep ‘em coming back. There’s huge potential for a great eatery in this part of town, sandwiched between Queens Park and Notting Hill, so here’s hoping they consolidate and focus on what they demonstrably do so well. Fresh, seasonal, evocative pan-Mediterranean cooking, which is a broad enough church surely to keep their restless globetrotting chefs happy ...

Exact prices I can’t recall – starters were £8-12 and mains £14-20. Fairly reasonable. We paid  about £60 per head which included three courses, two bottles of prosecco and service. 

Food – 7/10
Drink – 8/10
Service – 8/10
Value – 7/10
Tap water tales – 6/10 (pretending to offer tap when we suggest it)
Staff Hotness – 8/10 (intensely serious foodie staff, quite hot and rugged with it) 

Dock Kitchen
320 Ladbroke Grove, W10
Dock Kitchen, Portobello Dock on Urbanspoon

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