The Test Kitchen
54 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SL
Reviewed by Michael M Sandwick
If you ever wanted to be a guinea pig, now would be the time. Instead of being poked and prodded in a lab, you can feed and give feedback to Chef Adam Simmonds at his new pop-up in Soho. I was more than happy to oblige!
After 30 years in the biz, numerous awards, Michelin stars and AA rosettes, Simmonds is ready to go solo in London. The pop-up is a way to test his menu ideas on the public before opening a permanent site in Marylebone in 2018.
A long counter with stools is all that separates kitchen and patrons. Guests are invited to watch and ask questions, rather like interactive art. I found myself wanting to stir the pot but the interaction didn’t go that far.
The menu is divided into veg, fish, meat and dessert. My guest and I shared 2 of each. The food is gorgeous; each plate designed for the eyes as well as taste and texture. There is however quite a disparity in portion size. A lovely combination of broad beans, girolles, onion and pine broth (£7.50) was little more than an amuse-bouche whereas a sumptuous risotto of pearl barley, cauliflower Romanesque and truffle (£7) was ample.
Smoked eel jelly, Granny Smith, veal tongue and parsley (£8.50) was a heavenly combination but again, much too small. I wanted a vat of it! Smokey, tart, smooth, chewy, fresh, creamy…the gamut. Even better was cured red mullet, green tomatoes, rocket foam, dill oil and green tomato granita (£13). Never have green tomatoes tasted better. The fish was delicate, meaty and just the right side of raw. Odds are 10 to 1 this dish makes it to the permanent menu along with veal sweetbreads. With lardo, girolles, peas and lemon (£12) this was my dish of the day. Cooked perfectly, sweet, salty, sour and umami blended beautifully without a bitter note.
Lamb, black garlic, anchovy, aubergine and fermented tomato (£13.50) was a lovely contrast. A much bolder, though perhaps less surprising combination of flavours. Excellent with a glass of Mencia, Lalama (£13.50). From the district of Ribeira Sacra (sacred shore) in Galicia, this was an elegant, light and balanced wine with cherry and spice. We also sampled a glass of classic Côtes du Rhône (£11.50) and 2 lovely whites. A smooth, buttery California Chardonnay (£9) and a peachy, tart, full-on Sancerre (£12.50). In general, the wine list is varied, interesting and notable for its lack of ostentation. I will look forward to an expanded version in Marylebone.
Matcha tea custard, poached English cherries and red wine syrup (£8.50) and yellow peach, sorrel and raspberry (£8) were things of beauty. I enjoyed the flavour combinations, but both peaches and cherries lacked intensity and failed to pack a knockout punch.
I’m excited to see the results of The Test Kitchen and will happily volunteer to be a guinea pig for Chef Simmonds any time. Or perhaps just a pig!