“I’ve worked at and run many Michelin-starred restaurants in my career, but the one thing that was missing for me was face-to-face interaction with you, the diner”, reads a welcome message from Adam Simmonds. It’s pinned to the menu for The Test Kitchen, his new ‘long-term pop-up’ in Frith Street, Soho.
The concept is a menu is in constant development, led by the diners’ feedback both through conversation over the counter (there are no tables. Instead about 30 covers sit around an open kitchen with a counter between them and the chefs), and a feedback form which is filled in at the end of the meal. Each evening, the team collate all the feedback into a spreadsheet, and the team sit around and discuss it, making changes to the menu as they go. All the chefs contribute dishes and ideas, and there are notes and diagrams scrawled on the mirrored walls. Whether these are real, working notes or there to illustrate the concept I’m not sure, but I don’t really care. Theatre has an important role to play in a restaurant.
We start with an aperitif offered by the sommelier – a delicious, refreshing spritz called a ‘Suze’ with a bitter hint of pamplemousse. Throughout our meal, the sommelier recommends beautiful and unusual wines to go with the dishes. They’re careful to keep the wine list changing to reflect the changing flavours in the food, so there’ll always be something new to try on a second (or third…) visit.
We start with two dishes from the ‘veg’ section – a pearl barley and Romanesco cauliflower risotto, finished with truffle. It’s got all the elements of a perfect risotto – rich creaminess lifted with just enough acidity, a bite to its texture, and the comfort factor. Just as good is a small but luxuriously creamy burrata with beautifully seasoned tomatoes, courgette (complete with flowers) and a basil dressing.
From the ‘fish’ section of the menu, we have smoked eel, which is swimming in a parsley broth (though I suspect a proper chef would call it ‘velouté’), dotted with lardon-like cubes of veal and crunchy, tart granny smith apple. It’s really, really good. I wish there was more of it.
Both meat dishes are plate-lickingly tasty; 80 day aged sirloin of beef with bone marrow is given a touch of sweetness in the form of dates, and pork belly with salt-baked pineapple is unpretentious, fun and delicious, though as a crackling evangelist I wonder if they missed a trick by not crisping up the skin.
The desserts are irresistible and tricky to choose from. Set on the milk chocolate, pine, blackcurrant and pistachio, we dither between the lemon posset (with avocado, gooseberries and yoghurt) and the yellow peach with sorrel and raspberry. The chocolate comes as a fine shell which is cracked open to release a milkshake-like liquid that oozes over the plate, coating the other ingredients. We end up pleased with ourselves for choosing the peach, which is summery and refreshing, roasted and served with nitro-frozen raspberries, a fresh and herby sorrel sorbet and almond milk gel.
I ask Adam whether or not he gets to spend as much time as he’d like to interacting with the diners over the counter – surely in the midst of a busy service it’s impossible? He says it’s tricky to strike the balance, which is why the feedback forms are so important, and they always strive to make sure the dishes are spot-on. He’s a tangibly passionate chef – the kind that diners really would enjoy chatting to over the counter. We can’t wait to see how the restaurant develops.
We The Food Snobs x