Elliot Milne's coffee and brunch café has developed its offering to bring a taste of Australia to west London. Caroline Baldwin reports.
Milk Beach, an Australian all-day restaurant situated at the end of Lonsdale Road in Queen's Park, west London, is named after a small, secluded beach tucked away on Sydney's northern peninsula, with sweeping views across the harbour.
The venue was launched in 2018 by owner, co-founder and self-confessed coffee obsessive Elliot Milne, who created a coffee and brunch offer during the day and a restaurant and bar by night.
While Milk Beach has always offered an evening service, its small footprint cemented it in café culture. Following a refurb and expansion project last autumn, Milk Beach now has space for a full bar, allowing for an extensive cocktail and wine list. Combined with mood lighting and a playlist curated by Milne, Milk Beach can flex from a go-to place for coffee and a relaxed Aussie brunch during the day to a hip dining experience in the evening.
As well as providing more space and a larger kitchen, the relaunch has enabled Milk Beach to up its evening offering, becoming what Milne calls "a proper restaurant". During the summer, staff fling open the barn doors and diners spill onto the street, which became helpful during the short period the restaurant was allowed to trade under Covid restrictions, before the recent lockdown.
Natural, beach-themed interiors complement the coastal-inspired menu, designed by head chef Darren Leadbeater, who Milne describes as the "most Australian guy you've ever met". Leadbeater has worked in highly regarded restaurants in Sydney, such as Guillaume at Bennelong at the Opera House and Aria by Matt Moran, and in London at Frenchie, Wild Honey and Brunswick House.
Leadbeater and Milne's vision was to create a restaurant that reflected Australian cuisine and all the culinary influences it has absorbed from its neighbours. Leadbeater dots Asian flavours throughout the menu, such as Japanese furikake, which is used to season his favourite dish – a crudo of seabream served with soy and pickled daikon (£8).
"The menu is definitely coastal and influenced by many different cultures," explains Milne. "Certainly in Sydney, where we grew up, Asian influences are dominant. Darren lived in West Sydney where there is a huge Vietnamese and Chinese community and loads of really great, casual local restaurants."
The menu is definitely coastal and influenced by many different cultures
Milne's favourite dish is the squid ink tagliatelle with cock crab and tomato fondue (£12.50), named due to the thick texture of the tomato sauce, which he describes as a "very Sydney dish". The sauce achieves its rich consistency thanks to a tip Leadbeater learned while working at Bennelong, to caramelise garlic to a specific point before deglazing the pan with the tomatoes.
The best-selling chicken schnitzel (£12.50) – ‘schnitty' – uses a Japanese koji marinade, made from fermented rice that has been inoculated with a bacteria (aspergillus oryzae) before being blended into a "congee-like consistency", which is used to keep the chicken breast moist while cooking. The dish is served with chicken salt chips and a mayonnaise made from chillies that Leadbeater ferments for nine months – a result from experimenting at making his own sriracha. "Every single table asks for more," laughs Milne.
Sharing plates include purple sprouting broccoli with macadamia cream and black garlic (£8.50), as well as specials such as XO sauce clams, curry leaves and black mustard (£6.50).
Leadbeater has spent a considerable amount of time in Asia, as well as backpacking around Europe, influences he ties together frequently in his cooking. Rollright tortellini (£7.50), a dish he created, features Gloucestershire cheese and a bacon dashi. "I dress the dashi with fermented chilli and tiny basil leaves – it comes together with the flavour of Vietnamese pho."
Dessert is a choice between a just-set single origin coffee and custard tart with chocolate crumble and a slight sprinkling of salt (£6), providing a nod to Milk Beach's coffee roots, or a Neal's Yard cheeseboard served with house-made lavosh (£10) – an Armenian flatbread spiced with Tasmanian pepper berries, which are indigenous to Australia, with notes of juniper and Szechuan pepper.
Asking Leadbeater how he manages to create ‘comfort food' from unexpected ingredients, he says: "I know it sounds like a cliché, but when I write a menu I ask myself two things: one, what would I like to eat if I was sitting in the dining room? And two, is it delicious? The rest falls into place. It's a lot of trial and error – it's just about getting the balance of flavours and aromatics."
19-21 Lonsdale Road, London NW6 6RA
From the menu
Small sharing plates
- Langridge Farm leaf, avocado and Berkswell salad £4
- Fried potato gems, buttermilk, roe £5
- La Latteria burrata, Roscoff onions, Comace pears, amaranth £9.50
Large sharing plates
- Slow-cooked pork belly, fish sauce caramel, persimmon, puffed rice £11
- Seasonal pie for two, leaf salad £16/With a carafe of pairing wine £33
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