Comforting yet strong flavours make up the memorable menu at this neighbourhood restaurant. Caroline Baldwin reports.
for the neighbourhood-style restaurant Fenn in London's Fulham, the government's staggered approach to reopening has meant launching with a tiny 14 covers across four outdoor tables.
The covered area in front of the restaurant opened last month, with trellis festooned with plants and cushions scattered along bench seating, adding to the laidback atmosphere created by the restaurant.
When indoor dining is allowed from next week, the site will serve an additional 40 covers and 16 downstairs in a private dining room.
Fenn has been founded by the team behind Hackney's Nest: best friends Luke Wasserman, Toby Neill and executive chef Johnnie Crowe. Head chef Joe Laker, who has previously worked at Anglo in Farringdon, joined the team at the end of 2020 and has worked closely with Crowe to develop the à la carte and seven-course chef's set menu (£45 for the opening menu, increasing to £50 from 17 May).
Laker has been hooked on local, seasonal produce since working under Tommy Banks at the Black Swan at Oldstead in North Yorkshire at the start of his career. He has brought a similar approach to seasonal British produce to Fenn, sourcing most ingredients from around the UK and working with biodynamic, small-scale farmers who provide him with a harvest schedule to help plan his dishes.
The menu will see one or two changes every couple of weeks, but a permanent fixture is the moreish FFC (Fenn Fried Chicken), which is served with Lincolnshire Poacher dumplings and a smoked mayo. The dish arrives at the table canapé-style at the beginning of the set menu, and is also available on the à la carte (£7). Laker places boneless chicken thighs in a 10% brine for two hours before infusing with bay leaves, peppercorns, sugar, buttermilk and a spice mix for a further 24 hours. The chicken is deep-fried to order in a rice flour and polenta crumb with more of the spice mix. Meanwhile, a gnocchi-style dough is made from a mixture of mashed potato and Lincolnshire cheese for the fried dumplings. The dish is finished with a lightly smoked mayo, which will change with the seasons to a wild garlic mayo.
An optional wine flight created by co-owner Neill is available for £45, pairing a dish of beef tartare (£12) with a ‘Ruminat' Primitivo. The plum and blackberry undertones complement the fermented chilli and smoked oil in the dish, which Laker creates by blending red chillies, garlic and salt, before leaving the pulp at a controlled room temperature environment for two days. Oil is poured over ash from blowtorched hay, creating a deep, smoky taste and satisfyingly dark colour.
The fish course of halibut, Cornish crab and sea herbs (£23) sits on a bouillabaisse, which the chef makes from the bones of the halibut with fennel, leeks and dill, adding red peppers, tomatoes, tarragon and saffron to create the broth.
"Once we've made that stock, we pass it and add white wine and reduce by half, adding a dash of cream like a velouté sauce," Laker explains. "I then steam whole crabs and use the white and brown meat and throw tonnes of stuff into the mix, including tarragon, chervil, chives, confit fennel and lemon juice – making sure this links to the similar flavours in the bouillabaisse."
An additional course to the set menu (£11 supplement) is the hand-dived scallop and roast chicken butter, which is inspired by Laker's time at Anglo. He roasts chicken bones until golden brown to create a stock, which is reduced with thyme to create a classic roast chicken flavour. He then passes the stock and adds cubes of butter, as if making a beurre blanc.
"It's a dish I've put on quite a few menus, Many years ago I tried bream with a chicken stock sauce and thought how amazing it was – I've always remembered it. Scallops can hold a strong, deep flavour and I think they stand up quite well to the butter – they aren't overpowered by it."
A refreshingly spicy nutmeg ice-cream (£4 per scoop) prepares the diner for the rich chocolate dessert that concludes the meal. Next week the pre-dessert may be a Granny Smith sorbet, another week it might be pears, depending on his supplier's recent harvest, giving Laker the opportunity to experiment.
94 Wandsworth Bridge Road, London SW6 2UF
From the à la carte menu
- Carlingford oysters with lemon, pickled shallot and Fenn Tabasco £3 each
- Exmoor caviar 10g tin, £20/20g tin, £40
- House potato sourdough and butter £4
- Aged Cheddar dumplings £7 (+£6 for freshly grated Wiltshire truffle)
- Beetroot, goats' curd and candied walnut £9
- Confit duck egg yolk and wild mushroom £9
- New season's Jersey royals, asparagus and watercress sauce £14
- Lamb belly, spring onions and mashed potato £22
- Aged Yorkshire beef (rump and glazed cheek), purple sprouting broccoli, pickled walnut, bone marrow sauce and potato cake £30
- Nutmeg custard tart £8
- Yogurt parfait and rhubarb £9
- Baron Bigod, Per Las, Westcombe, shallot chutney and cheese scone £9
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