The opening of Medlar at 438 King’s Road marks a watershed in the culinary fortunes of this part of Chelsea / Fulham. For so long – indeed going back to the brilliant but short lived Gastronome One in the 1980s – the King’s Road, replete with every kind of eating and drinking establishment, has lacked a restaurant of real quality. David O’Connor, ex manager of The Square, and Joe Mercer Nairne (above), ex sous-chef of Chez Bruce, aim to fill this gap with their first joint venture. Given the evidence of the second day of service, they are well on the way to doing so.
The attractive canopied frontage has folding glass doors opening onto a small terrace for al fresco eating, Interior design by Turner and Pocock blends pleasing tones of grey and green with large, hand painted motifs of the fruit which gives the restaurant its name. Hessian covering on the main wall promotes good acoustics. Spotlighting is supplemented by an eclectic series of ceiling and wall lights.
Seating for 58 diners in this long, narrow restaurant, is spread across three interlinked areas, each with a distinctive character: the front is spacious and airy; the darker middle section is more confined; and the conservatory, lit by a skylight, has a remarkably bright and fresh feel. Upstairs, there is a bar and private dining room seating 14.
Seating is relaxed and comfortable. The middle section has banquettes which add to its intimacy. Round and square tables of various sizes are dressed with fine napery.
In the kitchen, Joe Mercer Nairne and his team demonstrate high levels of skill, versatility and creativity. The cooking has a classical French base with contemporary adaptations. There is confidence in the matching of quality ingredients and accuracy in the timing of cooking. Delicious, stylish and memorable dishes are the result; indeed the menu of six starters, mains and desserts offers an embarrassment of riches.
The front of house is equally important if the restaurant is to succeed, and here David O’ Connor is in his element. His mild mannered, softy spoken and self effacing persona belies strong organizational skills that have succeeded in managing teams at three of London’s most successful restaurants, The Square, The Ledbury and Chez Bruce. His largely young team at Medlar already seemed well drilled in the arts of service.
The meal began with good quality homemade breads – light sour dough and soft foccacia.
An impressive starter of crab ravioli was generously filled with herbed white meat and covered with a rich, deeply flavoured bisque, lifted by the addition of brown shrimps. Leek fondue and samphire gave colour and earthy notes to what is likely to become a signature dish, one that will be in great demand and therefore difficult to take off the menu.
Another starter of duck egg tart comprised a whole fried egg perched on a disc of buttery puff pastry. Garnishes of turnip puree, lardons and sautéed duck heart worked particularly well with the red wine sauce, the gentle acidity of which balanced the with the richness of the tart. (Wines with starters: Puligny Montrachet, J C Bachelal, 2005)
A main course of roast cod was perfectly timed to reveal translucent flakes of delicate flesh beneath a golden crust. Toasted almonds gave a pleasing contrasting texture, whilst celeriac puree and dainty florets of purple sprouting broccoli proved successful seasonal accompaniments. The different elements were brought together by gentle anchovy vinaigrette
Roast rack of lamb also revealed precision of cooking in order to maximize flavour. The pink, well rested meat was partnered with its slow cooked confit shoulder and creamy pan fried sweetbreads. Gremolata added herby, lemony notes to cut the richness, Aubergine puree, grilled baby aubergine and broad beans were well prepared, helping to soak up the light but intense lamb jus. Overall, this dish was a tour de force, likely to remain on the menu for some time. (Wines with mains: Pinot Noir La Crema, Sonoma Coast, 2008)
Not quite in the same league as the savoury courses, but still very satisfying, are the desserts. These show an English bias with junket, poached rhubarb and lemon curd amongst the components
Chocolate and almond torte was soft and melting, although the almond taste was somewhat muted. Honeycomb pieces and honeycomb ice cream and caramel sauce added a variety of textures, tastes and temperatures. For some, the combination might prove too sweet.
Blood orange sorbet with Sipsmith gin was smooth, with a generous spiking of alcohol. The warm madeleines served with it were exemplary in their lightness and texture. (Wines with desserts: The Noble One De Bortoli, New south Wales, 2007)
As an alternative to dessert a selection of plated English and French cheese is available, served with a portion of Medlar jelly.
Strong coffee and chocolate truffles completed a most agreeable meal. This was made even more enjoyable by the fine wines chosen by Head Sommelier Clement Robert. The extensive wine list, organized by country and in ascending order of price, has a bias towards France.
Medlar is clearly a serious restaurant which has made an impressive start. The inspired cooking and seamless service on the second day of service augur well for the future. With three courses initially costing £20 for lunch and £30 for dinner, the promotion formula is likely to prove highly attractive. Even when prices rise to more realistic levels, Medlar will prove irresistible to discerning foodies. It is likely to become both a destination as well as a popular neighbourhood restaurant.
David O’Connor and Joe Mercer Nairne have a wealth of experience that will undoubtedly bring the success their restaurantdeserves. Certainly, a Michelin star is on the cards next year.