THE MALL TAVERN: I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG II
The Prawn Cocktail Years have a lot to answer for, although if Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham hadn’t written their retro-cooking classic then as sure as Dib Dabs are Dib Dabs somebody else would have.
Yes - there’s a bit of a retro revival going on and it ain’t pretty. Fondues are the dish de nos jours and it’s easier to find a gourmet Sausage Roll than a decent pint of ale in a pub these days. The kids are just lapping it up.
And why shouldn’t they? As HS’s book Eating For Britain (buy it now!) shows there’s some great dishes from our past that are worth reviving. The trouble is the current trend manifests itself as putting a crappy, dried-up Scotch Egg on the menu. Wither all the creativity? And more importantly, could it be found in West London?
The Mall Tavern is yet another take on the modern gastropub, part of a chain owned by the Perritt Brothers. In the way that better examples of the genre are, it didn’t look like a chain gaff and according to the blurb had a good chef at the helm. There were rather too many French people there on my visit but the pub can’t help being in Notting Hill. Maybe as another retro measure they could put up a sign saying No Dogs, No Work Shoes and definitely No French.
But I digress. Massively. One of the USPs of the pub appears to be the range of snacks. Anything that gets people to eat a little something whilst drinking is obviously a good thing but the food on offer has to be up to snuff otherwise you’d be better off with a pack of peanuts.
I'm don't know where Cauliflower Fritters comes in the pantheon of great British bar snacks and I'm not sure they're a suitable match for a pint of Old Hooky but both were very good in their own way. The beer was well-kept and only slightly-annoyingly served in a jug (hey, groovy).
The fritters were small florets that had been blanched but still left with a bit of a bite and lightly battered. Served with a curried mayonnaise dip they were like a little veggie nod in the direction of our subcontinental, imperial past.
Lamb Scrumpets - another new one on me - were rissoles of meat that had been breaded and deep fried. Larry was pretty fatty but since the frying was good they weren’t de trop. I also liked Dorset Meatballs – little porky spheres in a tomato sauce with lots of fennel in the mix. More Old Country than West Country.
Asparagus should be really good at this time of the year but the specimens I had here weren’t. Chopping up the thicker bits and mixing them with shallots was a good idea but none of it had much of that lovely asparagus taste. Disappointing.
I am a sucker for Chicken Kiev although I have no idea when I last had one. Probably in a restaurant called La Cazuela in Fuengirola c1990 which served “The best Chicken Kiev on the Costa del Sol”. I think it came with kiwi fruit, but in those days everything came with kiwi fruit.
Chicken Kiev should be a fairly dense piece of fowl with garlicky, buttery juices just bursting to get out and splatter you and your beige slacks. This one opened with a wimper.
The Scotch Egg shape, while aesthetically pleasing didn’t work with the result that the chicken meat didn’t envelope the sauce properly. The crisp coating was good but it had come away from the chicken. And the filling wasn’t great with large unchopped bits of garlic strewn hither and thither.
A hash brown was more a sort of thick Rosti. A bit heavy going it was the wrong sort of starch to accompany an already rich plateful. Coleslaw done well is a fine dish but this one was poor – a mixture of finely shredded vegetables does not a slaw make.
Chips tasted ok but would have been better crisped up a bit. The kitchen must have had a heavy Friday night because they’d mislaid their vegetable peeler.
A decent sweet rescued things somewhat. A couple of big slabs of Neapolitan Ice Cream gave me a real À la recherche du temps perdu moment.
In spite of an indifferent main course the relaxed surroundings, good beer, a bit of original thinking in the snack department and smiley efficient service contributed to me having a pleasant time at The Mall Tavern.
It was only later, whilst indulging in a bout of post-meal analysis (Dos Hermanos do it all the time), that I felt a little short-changed. The kitchen can obviously cook but in a dining room where initially I was the only one eating it should have been better.
I’ve talked about this before but sometimes the difference between the merely competent and the excellent is the love and the effort the kitchen puts into the food. Details are important. If you’re not going to slip into the morass of gastropubs you’ve got to keep your standards up. Gastros that fancy themselves a cut above please take note.