On the elegant former site of the Notting Hill Brasserie, a French/Spanish/Portuguese establishment which looks set, like its predecessor was for a time, to become a ‘destination’, albeit of an informal type.
This new Notting Hill restaurant is backed by venture capital money. And we all know what VCs want, don’t we? ‘Formula’, ‘roll-out” the chilling B-school buzz-words trip off the tongue. However, what’s striking about this impressive multi-room site – a ‘character’ property with relatively little passing pedestrian traffic – is how signally it fails to tick any of the relevant boxes. It just couldn’t be further from the what-VCs-want Identikit.
Maybe, then, these have decided to create something special? That would at least be consistent with the history of the property, which includes such luminary establishments as Leith’s and the Notting Hill Brasserie.
The chef, or rather ‘Executive Chef’ (brains not brawn), of the enterprise is Luis Baena – a toque of extensive international experience, who has, it seems, been looking for the ‘right’ London site for a couple of years. This itself bespeaks a certain seriousness of purpose.
We visited three weeks after opening, and a soft-opening menu discount was still being offered. Another sign of serious intent: long-running opening discounts only make sense when restaurants think they’re going to encourage you to come back. And come back we certainly would; there was nothing in the friendly and accomplished performance we witnessed which really called for any discount at all.
The food is said to be Spanish/Portuguese (Baena’s nationality), but the attribution is a bit notional. This was perhaps most obvious at the dessert stage – our party sampled two jewel-like examples of the pÃ¢tissier’s art, each the equal of those available at any school-of-Escoffier kitchen in London you might care to name. There was nothing Hispanic about them at all. Bread likewise.
There are nods to pure Spain – the Pata Negra was very good, and the wines lean to the Iberian Peninsula, for example – but this is a restaurant with a Gallic grounding which clearly runs deep. Very good as it was was, there was nothing particularly Spanish about a prawn ‘sausage’, for example, that could have easily been called a boudin. In fact, the only dud dish on our table of four was some slow-roasted lamb which could just as easily have been a dull Gallic dish as a dull Hispanic one. The staff, for what it’s worth, seem to speak more French than anything else.
But, really, who cares about nationalities when the food is good and interesting, and everyone is having such a good time? This is, we’re convinced, a new London star.