I returned to the kitchen last Sunday. It’s been a while. In fact a really long while. And just to be clear, this isn’t a smirk-ridden attempt to analogise the kitchen and the bedroom…in the sexy time way…I actually mean the kitchen.
It’s funny how, for someone who thinks about food and eating more than any other subject or act, life has kept me outside my favourite place for so long. I wasn’t totally abstinent, there were a few flings here and there with meaningless pastas and mid week pull togethers. But proper kitchen time, a bench full of ingredients, hands itching to play and cupboards full of pots, pans and contraptions destined for experimentation – Sunday was proper, fun, sexy cooking time. I’ve really missed it.
|Amuse bouche of cress soup and egg yolk...not loving the styling, but super tasty!|
For some weeks now the closest I’ve come to a kitchen is a big family feast at the Chef’s Table at my local (well, loosely local) pub – The Mall Tavern in Nottinghill (71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace, Notting Hill, London, W8 4RU). I find this place classic, deeply stained and lightly exquisite in the evening (in a waist coat and pipe kind of way) so to call it just a local doesn’t seem quite fair. But then again it’s calm and warm, a wooden pub which makes me feel like I belong nestled up in the leather-bound corners of the dining room. Maybe in a bustle and without the right to vote, but nonetheless, a great local.
|Cow Pie...how could I forget the marrow and parsley!!|
I first came to The Mall Tavern with a friend who can legitimately call it her local, and we came for one thing. The Cow Pie. That’s it. Pastry, gravy and cow. I’m a simple girl. But then I came back for the pigeon pie, their smoked salmon (smoked in kettle on the roof), the roasted wild duck and then the pies again. Hooked. Apparently, and I’ve never quite got this, other people come here, and they come here a lot, for the Chicken Kiev. It’s the second highest selling dish on the menu (yes, of course after the Cow Pie).
|Wah, wah. bass pluck, bass pluck, Chicken Kiev, bass pluck wah wah disco Shaft!|
Who is 2011 orders Chicken Kiev? Who serves Chicken Kiev after 1973? When mustard flares, key swapping and perms went out of fashion, so did Kiev - other than in the Bird’s Eye alternative universe where mustard wearing families look very nuclear and smug whilst eating Chicken Kiev. Maybe that’s why people order Chicken Kiev, it reminds them of a time when they could wear tight fitting clothing and their family wasn’t abstract, interesting or confusing.
|"Why Judy, your Chicken Kiev was delectable |
and so is your husband...jingle jingle"
I probably shouldn’t write that because my family is entirely nuclear. My parents will be married for 40 years this December and my sister and I are only mildly damaged from a usual and loving suburban upbringing. We have two dogs. I just live on the other side of the world from them all – the dogs and the family – in a spoilt anti-nuclear protest.
But we ate the Chicken Kiev. As a family, at a dinner table, together, at Mall Tavern. And we loved it…and then smiled collectively at each other looking very smug. Snapshot. In fact I think my Dad was actually not smug but trying to remember if he’d been forced to toss out those flares. The answer Dad is yes, before the tassel loafers and after the Speedo swimwear and all before 1982.
|Attention seeking pink veal|
But we’re back to 2011 and there was Chicken Kiev involved in this story…there was also pink veal, served with a dramatic Frenched bone which was prize (be it a little too Bedrock), and the braised beef exactly how you wanted it to taste, but just a little better. I even have to admit, the vegetarian option – involving quorn (I can’t confidently spell, let alone consume this), butternut squash and my good friend pastry was actually pretty darn tasty. Damn you quorn, I might eat you, but I’ll never succumb to tofu (other than the silken tofu which is actually pretty darn tasty. Damn you tofu!!). The Mall Tavern serves nostalgia, and serves it well (other than the quorn, nothing nostalgic about that, unless your parents were hippies in the frozen isle).
|Braised beef and celeriac puree, the opposite of tofu|
At the Chef’s Table, each dish is shared either from the middle of the table or by rotation. Sure, there may be some health risks in this approach, but we’re all family…right? I was granted bell rights (she who controls the bell controls the rotation of dishes) and found it a moment of great struggle to reach and ring when it was my turn to pass the wabba dabba veal to the right. It was a risky, some may say erroneous, move to trust me to distribute food equally amongst the table. Unfortunately, I have a conscience and a need for people to share my excitement of a great dish. Inconvenient but effective in this case.
|Now I know what Arctic Rolls are...|
I’m really not a dessert person, born without a sweet tooth I was [click, heel tap, eye wink] but as the meal began to taper off, the table was again packed with every sort of arctic roll, salted caramel, marshmallow, cheesecake, chocolate and hyperactivity generator you might desire. I didn’t desire though, well, I couldn’t desire. I’d already out-challenged my eating dress which clung with over-extended desperation to my ever-increasing food baby bulge. So hot! I’m told by my smug family that the desserts were as good as the Kiev but not as good as the cow. More importantly, it was at this point of the meal that my Dad stopped lamenting the disposal of his historic fashion staples.
|Toasted marshmallows by Anakin|
My parents won’t be much longer visiting in London which means we won’t leave our next visit to Mall Tavern too long either. Cow pies are not so readily available on Australian summer time menus. And I definitely won’t leave my next quality kitchen day as long between as the last. I could barely fit my post-Mall Tavern eating dress, but my London mini-fridge certainly can’t fit the product of my post-Sunday kitchen binge. Sunday dinner at mine anyone?