I first tasted Jesse Dunford Wood’s cooking at his pub, The Mall Tavern, in Notting Hill. I loved it! Now, Dunford Wood is bringing his food to North London.
The Parlour in Kensal Green opened less than two weeks before our visit, but on the Saturday we went for dinner, the dining room was full and the bar room had a fair number of punters too, though space for plenty more. This is a complete makeover within the shell of former pub The Regent, and the new look is a light and bright mish-mash of new and old styles with painted wooden wall panels below stark white tiles, simple pared back tables and chairs and plain wooden floors.
The menu will broadly be familiar to fans of The Mall Tavern, though it’s not identical. But Dunford Wood’s dense brown soda bread, house smoked salmon, mushroom pate and chicken liver pate with piccalilli and crispbreads, cow pie, arctic rolls and salted caramel rolos are all present.
Pete was particularly impressed by the range of beer, with about 10 beers on tap – including beers from London Fields Brewery, Camden Town Brewery and Meantime – and an interesting selection of cans and bottles – the trendy breweries like Kernel and Brewdog were represented, but so too were more unusual ones such as Maui Brewing from Hawaii.
This dense brown soda bread, served warm, is sweet, salty and really full of flavour. Soft whipped butter is commendably easy to spread.
Have these chicken poppers as a bar snack, whilst you consider the rest of the menu, or as a starter. Moist white chicken, piping hot, inside a fantastically crunchy coating, which we think has crumbed popcorn mixed in for flavour and served with mayo and popcorn, these are addictive and there was a collective sigh of sadness as we reached the bottom of the dish.
Just as I remembered from The Mall Tavern, the smoked salmon is rich, buttery, silky and with a well-judged light smoke that doesn’t overwhelm the flavours of the salmon. Lovely.
This probably goes without saying, but if you order the pates and pickles for a party of two, don’t also have the smoked salmon and popcorn chicken nuggets! The platter is enormous and plenty to share between three, maybe four.
Mushroom pate, with silky shimeji mushrooms on top, is robustly mushroomy; rather than being blended to within an inch of its life, has the pleasing texture of chopped mushrooms throughout.
Chicken liver pate in a jar is liquid runny, all the better for spooning onto the mug of crisp breads and crackers provided. Beautifully smooth, no hint of the graininess that can be present, it’s suitably rich, though the red onions and salad leaves on top cut through that nicely.
Salmon pate is served in a generous quenelle, surrounded by tiny piped dollops of sour cream or crème fraiche, sliced cornichons and spoonfuls of caviar. Again, very nice on that crunchy crispbread.
A small pot of piccalilli is chock full of large chunks of vegetables and has a strong, mustard kick.
But probably my favourite element, surprisingly, is the plate of pickled carrot ribbons – three different carrot varieties providing a carnival of colour, still crunchy but soaked in a nicely balanced sweet sharp vinegar.
Pete’s very happy with the burger, praising in particular the moistness of the patty and its great flavour. Perhaps it could have been a little larger, lost a little in the enormous bun. And I’d have liked a wet condiment inside; perhaps I’d have poured in some of the ketchup and mayo that came with the chips. But very good.
And those chips were fantastic! A little over-salted, we felt, but really beautifully cooked.
This dish was the only disappointment of the meal for me. From the description, I’d expected something hearty and considerably more rustic, the chicken version of Jesse’s famous cow pie. But the chi-chi presentation was a shock, and not in keeping with the venue or the rest of the menu. Further, the dish disappointed on taste – the chicken was nicely cooked but filled with an extremely bland and gluey green stodge with no discernable flavour, certainly not tarragon; the skin was flaccid rather than crisp, the whole parsnips were lacking in flavour too, though the parsnip crisps were lovely and there was a tiny puddle of parsnip puree beneath one of the pieces of chicken that was delicious, if only there had been more than two forkfuls of it; the spinach at the sides of the plate was stone cold. For my money, I’d rather have a much homelier dish with more focus on flavour than presentation.
Back to form with the show stopper wagon wheel. Served first in two halves, Jesse came along and blowtorched the soft meringues, before advising us to sandwich the halves together and squish. Much better than the commercial version of my child hood, this combination of thin and chewy cookies, chocolate spread and gooey meringues was an absolute winner.
The muscovado sponge was a thing of beauty, but neither of us were convinced by the chewy texture of granola in the ice cream. Nice, but I think Jesse’s classic arctic roll is better, along with some of this other unusual flavours.
Oh, the salted caramel chocolate rolos! Cheekily imitated by other restaurants, and for good reason, these are intense! The dark chocolate shell is delightfully thin, just a little pressure and the ball breaks open to release its bounty. And the liquid caramel centre has an intense, dark caramel flavour that is perfectly balanced by the salt.
As the menu says, they’re even available to take away. If you can’t find space, be sure to take a bag with you for later.
What I like most about the Parlour, alongside the attractive space and the genuinely warm and helpful welcome from all the staff, is a menu that is confidently a little different from the hundreds of same same pub menus that proliferate all over the UK.
I’m sooo sorry about the photographs; these are probably the worst ones I’ve ever used in a blog post! For some reason, the point and shoot struggled to focus and the shutter speeds were really slow, hence the blurriness. It was dark, but not unusually so, and I didn’t have any funny settings selected, so I’ve no idea what went wrong. But as the photos give an impression of the evening, I’m wearing my embarrassed face and sharing them anyway.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of The Parlour. With special thanks to Jesse, Maxi, Lorean and Alex for looking after us so well.