As I hoisted myself into position at The Test Kitchen, a slight apprehension began to creep over me. What does one open themselves up to when they choose to dine in a restaurant where a ‘test’ is so crucial to the concept? Who is being tested here, the diners or the chefs, I wondered? A dear friend of mine thrives on ‘interesting’ dining experiences, so I imagine that he would be in his element, playing guinea pig to chef Adam Simmonds and his team. Whereas I, despite my fascination with ingredients, provenance, culinary wizardry, still dine by a much simpler litmus test – does it taste good and would I want to eat it again?
I would prefer dishes to have been tried and tested before they got to me, but then a certain someone rather pointedly reminded me that I also enjoy giving my two cents worth and this time the chefs actually welcome it. Touché. With no response, I pulled myself together and settled into my seat, which by the by, was not designed with petite people in mind, bracing myself for what was to come. The opening gambit, a small bowl of roasted pearl barley was an easy pass. Parsley gave the nutty barley a green glow and freshness, the garlic was faint yet warming, and all finished off perfectly with crispy shallot rings!
We were also impressed by the flavour and finesse of the plaice; the delicate fillets were not only perfectly cooked, but treated with enough care so as to remain the star attraction on the dish. That said, the bit players were also class acts – the velvety smooth whey sauce, lightly smoked mussels, slithers of turnip and the final sprinkling of caviar all brought the sophistication levels up a few steps. Two courses in and I was quite disappointed we were already halfway through this test; we were enjoying watching the chefs work in their deliberate and meticulous manner and quite enjoying eating the fruits of that labour.
I have always thought that pork and pineapple make a fine, if slightly oddball, marriage but it took The Test Kitchen to convince a certain someone of this. For a man who loves pork, the prospect of it tainted by the likes of salt-baked pineapple and sunflower seeds both puréed and scattered on top, seemed an abomination. However, after a few mouthfuls and silent contemplation his tune changed to the point where he risked a future in the dog box by telling the chefs that their pork fillet was almost better than mine. I made a song and dance about that inclusion of ‘almost’ being his only saving grace, but frankly I know when I am beaten. Mine’s good, but this was something to aspire to… the execution, the balance, the jus… it was perfection and every ounce of it was savoured.
The description for dessert seemed a curious mix; the dark chocolate I could understand but for that to be followed by IPA, miso, and rosemary all together?! I feared this was one test which was better off in the lab than the dining room, which is why I am better at eating than I am cooking. As I was wrong. Left to its own devices, the sweetness of the cremeux alone would have made my stomach somersault itself into unpleasant knots. However, when tempered with the more savoury flavours, my tummy barely flipped, and I was still scraping at the plate for more. The rosemary in cracker form was the standout pairing; where the others were subtle, this brusque herb barged in like the life of the party, bringing something different and intriguing to what could have been a run of the mill chocolate number.
The Test Kitchen was far from being the testing experience I was afraid of; quite to the contrary, all the dishes exceeded our expectations. No near fails or almost passes, we both struggled to find fault with any of the food which made filling out the feedback card at the end of the meal the real exam for us. I think the best we could scrummage together was a pitiful complaint about the seating and the annoying stem-less wine glasses. If Adam Simmonds continues to conjure up combinations like these and executes with the same precision, I have no doubt that his permanent venture will be soon be a darling of the London dining scene.
What is the most exciting restaurant you have been to recently?
The Test Kitchen is open in Soho until March 2018 so go get yourself a seat at the counter soon…
Pin It For Later?