Chris Denney's ferments, foraged herbs and an approach that lets single ingredients sing is attracting rave reviews at this small but perfectly formed site, says Andy Lynes
To say that 108 Garage got off to a racing start would be an understatement. Within weeks of its opening, three of the country's leading restaurant critics had sampled the eclectic food. "The kind of chef who comes along only once or twice in a decade," said Giles Coren; "giddily life-enhancing," raved Fay Maschler; "deftness and skill like this is worth shouting about loudly and often," proclaimed Jay Rayner.
That chef was Chris Denney, who opened 108 Garage with flamboyant businessman Luca Longobardi (his book, Branded ‘The Mafia's Banker' tells the story of his incarceration in a maximum-security prison in South America).
"It all came very early, all within the first two months," Denney says. "Before we knew it, we were full, with 30 at lunch and 48 for dinner every day. There are four chefs in the kitchen, including me, and two of them had never cooked in their life, so we had to find our stride."
ney runs the sauce section in the tiny open kitchen of the 38-seat restaurant, with its polished concrete floor, exposed brick and metalwork ceiling.
Despite the space limitations, Denney offers à la carte and five-course tasting menus (£35 at lunch, £55 at dinner) with an either/or choice of second and third courses. In addition, the Sunday Experiment menu comprises 10 plates from which diners can choose six for a total price of £35 a head.
"We get deliveries twice a day because of the size of the kitchen, which has a tiny oven, a little Green Egg barbecue, a grill and two water baths," says Denney. "You can prep really fresh for only 40 covers, but limitations can be good."
There seem to be no bounds on Denney's culinary imagination, however. The menus change daily and are full of unexpected combinations, such as sweetbreads with white peach and buckwheat, and obscure ingredients like lampascioni, the bulb of the sea hyacinth. Denney says he discovered it on a trip to Puglia and here it appears raw with turbot and a roe and chickpea mayonnaise (£26).
Denney has a gleefully abandoned approach to global culinary influences, which is reflected in the chef's singular CV that incorporates Enrico Crippa's triple-Michelin-starred Piazza Duomo in Alba in Italy, and David Thompson's Nahm in Bangkok, as well as working for leading British fine-dining chefs such as John Campbell and Phil Howard.
"I wouldn't say we're fusion, but we're stumped as to what we do call ourselves," says Denney, who cites Aaron Patterson at Hambleton Hall as his greatest influence. "That was the first place I came across fermentation. We were not allowed to just use vinegar or squeeze a lemon on something. If you wanted red wine vinegar, you'd better have made it yourself."
Denney has carried that ethos through to 108 Garage. "We make our own kombu pickle with rice wine vinegar and a tiny amount of sugar, and that's a great ‘balancer'. That stems into other areas, like a woodruff pickle or a foraged pickle, which changes the flavour notes."
ney uses a 10% brine to lactose-ferment celeriac, kohlrabi and sand carrots, and serves the latter with sugar- and salt-cured Cornish mackerel and raw cuttlefish (£12). Although most dishes spend weeks on the menu, lamb heart agnolotti with swede dashi and pink onion (£9) has become a staple. "That is one thing that rears its ugly head more than anything else, and that's due to my own love of making it," he says. "It's just a great organ to use. We don't use any chicken mousse, we go old-school ragù and it's an eight-hour cooking process."
Other favourites include scallops, freighted overnight from Skye, which are simply sliced and served with lovage, apple, horseradish milk powder and fresh horseradish (£14) ("it's a bastardised version of sashimi using the best of British produce"), and Creedy Carver duck from Dorset, aged in the fridge for four days, the crown roasted and served with foraged woodruff, frozen blue cheese and kombu-macerated black cherries (£24).
Denney is also planning a second restaurant, Southam Street, a few doors down from 108 Garage, to include a robata grill, raw bar and saké room. "We turn away 150-200 people a week, so it makes sense. I'm loving it. I couldn't wish for anything more. I'm very humbled."
108 Golborne Road, London W10 5PS
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