Above: Tom Kemble’s Challans duck with beetroot, griotte cherry, endive and shiso
‘I don’t know what I was expecting,’ says M, peering at his amuse-bouche. ‘But it wasn’t this.’ He pops the tiny pearlescent wafer into his mouth, and crunches through it thoughtfully. ‘It’s like a prawn cracker,’ he volunteers eventually. ‘Only made from pig.’ More crunching. ‘That’s a good thing, by the way.’
On Mondays, Tuesday, Wednesdays and Fridays, Bonhams’ new restaurant – hidden away in unprepossessing Haunch of Venison Yard, off Brook Street – limits itself to breakfasts and the lightest of light lunches. But on Thursday nights, 31-year-old chef Tom Kemble (a history of art graduate, appropriately) hosts a supper club that’s making a serious name for itself.
So here we are, to find out what all the fuss is about – I, who normally runs a mile from foams and smears and gels, and M, who eats out so often that he once went nine months without turning his oven on.
On the night we visit, they’re celebrating. ‘We’ve just been given a Michelin star!’ our lovely waitress beams, handing us glasses of complimentary Pol Roger. My heart sinks. It isn’t that I’m not thrilled for them. I’m just worried that it’s going to turn into one of those reverential-silence restaurants that’s about as much fun as stubbing your toe.
But as soon as the bread basket heaves into view, I know I needn’t have worried. It’s groaning with giant slices of warm sourdough, which has a crumb so open and yielding that you want to bed down in it for a nap. We tear into it greedily, and ask for more within minutes. Very un-Mayfair. Very un-Michelin. Yippee.
After the prawn-crackers-that-weren’t (poshed-up crackling, it turns out) and a sharpener of bonito tuna sliced paper-thin, we move onto the set menu proper. And what a tonic it is. Cornish crab, cauliflower and curried bisque foam is the best summer holiday you’ve ever been on in a bowl.
A perfectly crisp Buford Brown egg, perched on a nest of woodlandy girolles and dressed with roast chicken jus, is a trendy piece of plating, but the flavours are classic, unfussy – there’s nothing on it that hasn’t earned a right to be there. It’s sensational. Even M, who’s so blasé about this kind of thing that he once fell asleep at Le Gavroche, is grinning as he tucks in.
Next up is juniper-smoked Highland grouse with all the trimmings (Kemble is ex-Faviken in northern Sweden, so he’s big on seasonality), tasting properly of itself, kept in check by watercress coulis and sharp-sweet blackcurrant. Brilliant.
Dessert is the silkiest slice of nutmeggy egg custard tart, with a wobble that makes me think of Marilyn Monroe trotting down the station platform in Some Like It Hot. (There’s no higher compliment you can pay a pudding.) ‘I could eat a tray of these,’ says M, scraping his plate clean.
And the wines. Oh, the wines. We opted for me matching flight, which was a very, very good decision. Whoever it was that thought of pairing that tart with a honeyed Château Coutet from 1997 knows their stuff.
All in all, it’s a joy: generous, fun, clever without feeling laboured or po-faced. And at £50 a head for four courses (£90 with the wine flight), it’s one of the best-value special-occasion meals in W1 – if not the whole of London.
7 Haunch of Venison Yard
London W1K 5ES
Photographs by Richard Cannon