Refined technique and quality produce go hand in hand at this venture from Rebecca Mascarenhas, Phil Howard and Mark Kempson. James Stagg pays a visit
Any chef who learns under the likes of Phil Howard and John Campbell is sure to have an obsession with wringing as much flavour as possible out of fine-quality ingredients. So it’s no surprise that Mark Kempson at Kitchen W8 in London’s Kensington has inherited a passion for produce.
Kempson worked under Campbell at the Vineyard at Stockcross before three years with Howard at the Square in London’s Mayfair, which he describes as “finishing school”. “I knew how to cook, but what I learned there was getting the best from ingredients, flavour and quality of produce,” he says.
Since 2009 he has been putting it into practice as head chef of Kitchen W8, a partnership between Howard and restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2001, which it has held since.
As a neighbourhood restaurant, it caters for all budgets, with a keenly priced set lunch (£28 for three courses) alongside à la carte and tasting menus (£75).
“It’s getting harder to keep the cost low,” Kempson explains. “You have to work closely with suppliers and jump on it if they have a surplus. Also, if we get a whole duck we may have an excess of leg that can go on the lunch menu – it’s about being clever with your ingredients.”
He has instilled this same respect into his eight-strong brigade as he learned, and nothing in the kitchen is wasted. “It’s painful to end the day with food left over,” Kempson says.
For instance, a salt cod brandade may appear as a starter on the set menu, making use of the trim left over from an à la carte dish. The warm salt cod brandade works wonders on a cold winter’s day, served with an eel vinaigrette – which again uses trim from the smoked eel on the à la carte.
“They’re all great ingredients, just reworked to suit lunch dishes,” Kempson adds. “They’re not secondary, and that’s important. We just have to deliver to a price point.”
Much like the restaurant, the cooking is refined without being fussy, with each ingredient serving an identifiable purpose in a dish. This is apparent in a starter of spiky artichokes, winter greens, spiced chestnuts and calcot onions (£11.95). Kempson prepares an artichoke barigoule and piles it with calcot onions and cavolo nero on a base of chestnut purée spiked with five spice and mushroom stock. It’s a dish to delight carnivores and vegans alike, with the simplicity on the plate belying the effort that has gone into its creation.
“I think it’s important to get vegan dishes on the menu, more from the kitchen’s point of view than anything,” Kempson explains. “We can all reach for butter and cream, but this makes you think a bit deeper to deliver great flavour. If you’re not ready and someone would like a vegan dish, the risk is you’re not prepared. I’d rather have something that’s tried, tasted and delicious.”
Packing a punch from the main is the glazed short rib of beef (£30) from the à la carte menu, which takes classic combinations and updates them. To maximise the flavour from the USDA short rib, Kempson brines it for six hours before roasting in a pan for caramelisation, then slow-cooking overnight at 100ºC.
For Kempson it’s the technique combined with the sourcing that makes the dish so special. “We’re very particular and use USDA,” he says. “It seems a shame to get American beef but I’ve not found anything on the market that comes close to it in terms of the fat marbling.”
The meat is paired with beef fat creamed potatoes, Tokyo turnip and calcot onions – the Catalan seasonal speciality – for sweetness, in a nod to beef and onions. It’s a show-stopper in terms of flavour, with the Tokyo turnip bringing bursts of freshness to cut through the richness.
“I want to serve food where guests don’t leave hungry and feel that they’ve had an experience,” Kempson adds. “It’s important for us to deliver on quantity and experience.”
From the desserts, Kempson is making the most of this year’s crop of forced rhubarb, combined with blood orange in a fool served with vanilla sugar doughnuts (£7.95). The acidity of the rhubarb and orange is balanced within the vanilla mousse, while the doughnuts lend that touch of decadence in which Kempson delights.
It’s clearly all about impact and generosity at Kitchen W8.
From the menu
• Ravioli of Cornish red chicken, glazed wing, winter truffle, shallot, lardo £14.95
• Grilled Cornish mackerel, smoked eel, sweet mustard, leek £13.50
• Roscoff onion broth, jerusalem artichoke, sunflower seeds, truffle £13
• Fillet of Cornish cod, caramelised cauliflower, St Austell Bay mussels, sea kale £26.95
• Warm salad of quail, spiced cashews, winter leaves, dates, bacon, duck liver £25.75
• Duck breast, sticky leg, winter chanterelles, baked celeriac, pear, walnut £27.50
• Chocolate pavé, toasted almond and orange ice-cream £8
• Passion fruit posset, caramelised demerara, banana, lime £7.50
11-13 Abingdon Road, London W8 6AH www.kitchenw8.com