The location of Kitchen W8, on a dark side road at the less glamorous end of Kensington High Street, previously home to Bistrot Eleven and 11 Abingdon Road, is deceptively uninspiring.
But Phil Howard and Rebecca Mascarenhas's new restaurant uses the darkness to great effect, creating a warm glow inside, which floods out into the road from its large-windowed frontage, revealing a bustling gaggle of diners munching busily inside. It is the very essence of a buzzy local restaurant.
But then this is what they do well. Howard has been in business with his partner at the two-Michelin-starred Square in Mayfair, Nigel Platts-Martin, for many years now, and although Kitchen W8 involves Mascarenhas rather than Platts-Martin, the influence is clear.
Think of some of London's top local eateries - La Trompette, the Glasshouse, Chez Bruce, the Ledbury - they all have the six degrees of separation factor, linked by Howard, Platts-Martin or Bruce Poole through various business partnerships. So it's no surprise that Kitchen W8, having been revamped by Nelson Design in cool beige tones with olive green banquettes, is a continuation of this genre.
The tables are comfortably set apart, cosy but not cramped, and the service is slick, slick, slick. Restaurant manager and sommelier Simon Freeman has a top pedigree, having learned his craft at the two-Michelin-starred Hibiscus first in Ludlow and more recently in London, and he provides an assured confidence that filters down through the team.
Meanwhile, back of house, the experience of head chef Mark Kempson's brigade takes in other Michelin-starred venues including the Square, Le Gavroche, the Connaught and the Vineyard at Stockcross.
The menu is set to change seasonally - about five times a year for the à la carte, and weekly for the lunch menu. Kempson explains: "We're not trying to be groundbreaking; we just want to serve good food that people really want to eat, cooked properly and respectful of the ingredients."
A light amuse bouche of salt cod fishball begins the foodie proceedings. Made from the trimmings of the à la carte cod, it is a nod to the business savvy of Kempson as well as the importance of "value-added".
Squid ink ravioli filled with crab and red mullet, topped with cuttlefish, octopus and lemon (£10.50) is fast becoming one of the restaurant's best-selling starters. Kempson explains that the subtle blending of the flavours comes from a base of light salmon mousse with slow-cooked red mullet and picked crab folded in, while the preserved Italian lemons add a particular summery freshness to the dish.
A special of seared foie gras with date purée and Pedro Ximénez sherry was flying out the door, as had a main course of turbot earlier in the day. "We speak to our suppliers and see what's a good deal and then work the dish round that product, rather than the other way around," says Kempson, acutely aware of the need to balance creativity with financial viability.
He is particularly pleased with the smoked eel dish. "It's the texture of the eel when it's thinly sliced like that - it's great in the mouth as the fattiness means it just melts when it hits your tongue," he says.
Main courses include Howard's classic from the Square of halibut fillet with a beaufort crust served on top of melted onions and chanterelles (£18) and a roast breast of duck with tarte fine of caramelised endive (£17).
Both dishes cleverly balance their distinct flavours: the halibut standing up to the pungent strength of the cheese, and the duck not overpowered by the sweetness of the caramelisation. In fact, the bitter endive works well to counterbalance this, while its accompanying jus - a thick duck reduction - is a reminder of the fundamentals of classic French cooking from which the menu takes its inspiration.
Desserts, all priced at £6.50, are equally grounded in classical French brasserie-style cooking featuring stalwarts like crème caramel with dates and caramelised orange, and a warm, bitter chocolate pudding with hazelnut praline and vanilla ice-cream.
But it was the rice pudding with prunes and Pedro Ximénez sherry that was the star of the night, its rich, silky texture and warmth a perfect foil to the damp dark winter night outside.
11-13 Abingdon Road
Tel: 020 7937 0120
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Game consommé with a bacon cream and small game hot dog, £8
- Ravioli of crab and red mullet with squid ink, cuttlefish, octopus and lemon, £10.50
- Thinly sliced smoked eel with grilled mackerel, leek hearts and sweet mustard, £8.50
- Fillet of halibut with a beaufort crust, melted onions and chanterelles, £18 (below)
- Pot -roasted pork belly with crushed root vegetables, black pudding and apple, £14.50
- Roast rump of rose veal with spätzle, chanterelles and cauliflower croquette, £17
- Crème caramel with date and caramelised orange purée, £6.50
- Passion fruit and lime mess with Brillat-Savarin cream, £6.50
- Clementine sorbet, £6.50