Dock Kitchen sets William Sitwell's new standard for excellent food and service particularly after the trials of filming Masterchef: The Professionals
I often find myself grappling for a reason why impeccably cooked, beautifully presented and admirably tasting food isn’t quite right.
I felt a bit like this last week when I had a lovely lunch at Orrery. There I was being marvellously attended by nicely obsequious waiters who brought a selection of dishes that cannot surely have erred one jot from how the prime mover of the recipe had intended.
The surroundings – a cheeky slim terrace above Marylebone High Street – were faultless as the sun beamed down on the hottest of days.
The pasta was just right, the sauce deep and flavourful. Every other dish was a nod to good French gastronomy. I have been lucky enough to eat in many such places. But the experience still leaves me cold – emotionally – despite leaving full and almost satiated.
Something old, something new
Something isn’t quite right and I yearn for a new measure. I know I don’t want the taste of butter swirling round my mouth even if the technique is faultless, but I also feel that surely mainstream smart restaurants can move away from the shackles of French gastronomy while still being better than gastropub-style cooking and not requiring a leap of faith towards Fergus Henderson-aping pig’s anus on toast.
But this week I was joyfully reminded that such a measure does exist. I know it well and it’s just up the road from my office.
The Dock Kitchen measure will from now on be the scale against which I can measure what I eat. The same as DK, better, worse, similar to, aping, failing abysmally to replicate and so on. Because, you see, I now fully realise that what I don’t like about food can be simply measured by how far it strays from the DK ideal.
And it’s not just about the food but the service and design of the place (in a Victorian Wharf by the Grand Union canal at the top of Ladbroke Grove). I’ll be asking, is the service more patronising, more aggressive, less helpful, more intrusive than DK? Because DK gets it right.
So the next time you are at some fancy restaurant and they bring you a cappuccino of pumpkin velouté made with a mushroom stock and very lightly flecked with chilli (actually that sounds quite nice, I might put it into development) ask yourself if it could really be as good as slices of just-ripe peach sitting among prosciutto and served with tandoor-cooked flatbread.
Stevie Parle, whose restaurant this is, and who I have raved about previously, brings his world travels, his experience at the River Café, Moro and Petersham Nurseries together on a menu of delicate, delectable, esoteric, wise and horizon-broadening value.
Each dish listed has you pondering, wondering and imagining. There’s – from the starters – chilled almond soup, cherries and basil or watermelon, feta, chilli and mint, for example. See what I mean? Or – from the main courses – Korean marinated onglet steak, shoestring fries and kimchee or Chairman Mao pork belly, smacked cucumbers and jasmine rice.
Simply, succinctly beautifully written dishes that serve as an example to every puffed up wannabe chef/twat who seeks attention but whose over ambitious ideas and fashion-obsessed micro-leaf type guff will only serve to irritate the diner (and I know what I’m talking about because I come across these guys every time I film Masterchef: The Professionals).
Our starters, meanwhile, were chicken livers with seven spice and pomegranate molasses. It came with more of that wonderful bread and was superb: tender livers, a dash of spice, gooey sauce. The fried squid was good too but our shared lamb biryani even taxed the DK scale of excellence.
A beautiful pot topped with tough pastry and a little square of edible gold enticed you to open up and dig in.
Worth a detour
The dry, tender rice and lamb, once put on the plate, was then made perfect with ladles of rich lamby sauce, provided separately. Onto which you sprinkled peanuts, pomegranate, rose petals and coriander.
This is the sort of place that makes me speak ill of Michelin Stars. Innovative, consistent, great technique and, yes, worth a detour.
There was pudding too – chocolate cake with other crunchy stuff in it and salted caramel ice cream (you can forgive them for this crowd pleaser and of course it’s very good) and a great bottle of Picpoul.
Stevie Parle’s team have been well-tutored by their master. And I know this because on every single occasion I have eaten at Dock Kitchen he hasn’t been there. I respect Stevie, I’m also a master of delegation.
This was the peak of great eating in a week of other really good dining.
But I’ll rattle those gems off next week. It included an amazing rib eye steak that came with a side dish of lobster macaroni…