By now, I hope you’ve had a chance to indulge in The Bear. Christopher Storer’s love letter to the restaurant industry is one of the finest TV shows created in the last decade – a genuine rarity that you’ll not just want to watch, but rewatch.
If Season 1 was an amuse bouche, Season 2 is the full tasting menu. The episode entitled 'Forks' is a particular high point. Cousin Richie has a week’s internship at ‘the world’s best restaurant’, where he is to learn the art of service. It takes him a while to recalibrate – but there’s a wonderful moment where it clicks into place, where he finally gets it.
He overhears a table of guests bemoaning that they’d never tried a Chicago deep-dish pizza. Richie is duly sent to fetch an authentic pie from a nearby pizzeria. This being the best restaurant in the world, the chef modifies it, cuts it into small cylinders, adds a verdant green sauce and a final garnish – “Micro basil, fuck yes!,” shouts Richie.
This little vignette sums up fine dining at its best – the absolute attention to detail; the dedication to service; the endless quest for elevation and for perfection. And it brings me neatly to Kitchen Table.
If you were lucky enough to eat at the rear-room kitchen table at Bubbledogs, you’ll have enjoyed some of the most exciting cooking anywhere in London.
But despite the two Michelin stars, Executive Head Chef James Knappett wasn’t entirely happy with the offering.
The layout of the restaurant was too compromised – the posh dogs and champagne concept a distraction from the main show taking place in the back room – and compromise is not a word in Knappett’s vocabulary.
And so here we are at Kitchen Table – take two. The experience now begins in the renovated lounge bar, where you can enjoy grower champagne by the glass or a deftly crafted cocktail from Mickey Kwasniewski. The bar menu leans heavily on house-made spirits and liqueurs made from seasonal and foraged ingredients – a clear nod to the kitchen beyond.
The opening snacks serve as a literal taster for what’s to come: equal parts art and science. The highlight was a wafer-thin croustade filled with fillet of aged dairy cow, sauce américaine, sliced cornichon, a smattering of horseradish, and shaved black truffle from Australia. It’s like the best Sunday roast you’ve ever eaten distilled into one heavenly mouthful.
Then it’s time to move through to the main event – the ‘kitchen table’ itself, where you join the other 14 diners in an amphitheatre of gastronomy. The seats are raised above the kitchen allowing you to look down and enjoy every last finishing touch being made with immaculate precision.
Knappett is there every night – a master of ceremonies who will talk through the majority of the dishes in person. Just be careful to listen: “Hey, this is my show not yours!” he chastises a particularly mouthy guest to my left – tongue firmly in cheek.
He’ll explain exactly what goes into every dish – even down to the butter. In case you’re interested, it’s served with foraged wild garlic from London; the larger green leaves are used to make an oil; the younger smaller leaves are dried out to make a powder sprinkled on top; the flower buds and the stems are pickled and added to the mix. All this just to make the butter.
Over the course of the evening, the variety of flavours, styles, and techniques employed is frankly mind boggling. Although each course centres on one hero ingredient, there’s always so much going on to elevate it – like a solo artist supported by a 50-piece orchestra.
The brill is the best I’ve ever had, with smoked eel and roast chicken broth good enough to drink. “If you don’t like this, you can leave,” Knappett jokes as he finishes explaining all the elements that go into it. Trust me, you’re not going to want to leave.
As the menu evolves so does the wine pairing, becoming richer and more expressive. You can select one of three pairings – grower champagne, wine or soft – to accompany the menu, or continue to order drinks à la carte. Knappett’s award-winning somm wife Sandia Chang has put together an extensive list, which features some of the rarest and most exciting grower champagnes from the region.
The tasting menu itself changes daily, using the very best of what’s available on any given evening. For us, that included hand-dived scallops, which Knappett shucks in front of us, then serves with pickled white asparagus, a glaze of forced rhubarb, and an oil of lovage. Knappett encourages us to “scoop, pour or drink – just don’t leave any in your bowl.” Fat chance of that, chef.
The highlight of the night? Sweetcorn. Yep, sweetcorn. But like you’ve never had it before.
Served on a bed of truffle-stuffed agnolotti, topped with a 36-month-old Parmesan and black garlic emulsion, and plenty of truffle shavings for good measure.
You’ll have enjoyed 17 courses by the time you step down from the kitchen – each one no more than a mouthful or two – before it’s back to the bar for a brace of sweet bites to enjoy with a digestif. Chef Knappett works the room going from party to party soaking up the praise – there is a lot of it – and getting realtime feedback that provides a useful barometer as to which courses were good and which were great. Needless to say, the majority fall into the latter camp.
Knappett has worked at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York, and the world-famous Noma in Copenhagen. Kitchen Table is a distillation of all that knowledge and experience – and, much like The Bear, is a triumph from start to finish.
Kitchen Table, 70 Charlotte Street, W1T 4QG; kitchentablelondon.co.uk