Kimberley Hernandez is preparing a diverse menu for reopening at this friendly neighbourhood restaurant in London's Chiswick, which she hopes will become part of the community. Katherine Price reports.
"I just wanted to find a place that someone like me, who has so many different memories from so many different places, felt at home," says Kimberley Hernandez, head chef at Silver Birch restaurant in west London's Chiswick.
Hernandez was born in the Philippines and raised in Canada, and her diverse CV includes a chef de partie role at the two-Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London and senior sous chef at Mathias Dahlgren's Michelin-starred establishments in Sweden, as well as head chef positions at Xu in Soho and Andrew Wong's Kym's in the City, which closed last year.
Being a Chiswick local, Hernandez came across the Silver Birch site while it was still under development. "Chiswick really needed a different kind of space. It was missing a little bit of something – a place where you can come and just enjoy good food and feel relaxed," she says.
"We had Hedone here for a while and then that disappeared. La Trompette has been an establishment forever, but there never seemed to be that [neighbourhood] space."
The 70-cover venue (down to 35 under coronavirus restrictions) is owned by first-time restaurateur Tim Price and will offer a weekend brunch, as well as lunch and dinner à la carte menus when it reopens, having only been able to open for about a month in between lockdowns last year. General manager Edward Allsopp oversees the wine list, which, like the food, is kept at an accessible price point.
Hernandez is supported by two chefs and three kitchen porters and says the most important thing in her kitchen is kindness.
"It's the kind of kitchen I've always wanted to run, where there's no ego," she explains. "We're here for the food, we're here for each other, and we want to give [the team] the tools to succeed beyond us."
It's the kind of kitchen I've always wanted to run, where there's no ego
Front of house, she hopes for the restaurant to have the same relaxed atmosphere as St John in Farringdon, where she spent a year as head pastry chef. "You knew you were there for the good food and the good times," she remembers fondly.
Suppliers to Silver Birch include Henderson Seafood, Pesky Fish, Smith & Brock for vegetables, Chiswick's Macken Brothers Butcher, Hackney Gelato and Hamish Johnston Cheesemongers.
Despite the limited opening run, the most popular dishes were quickly apparent, one being a blooming onion (£9) served with cep cream, which Hernandez says was described as "the best onion bhaji you ever had". She drew on memories of having the dish in north America but has finessed it for the restaurant. A sweet white onion is scored to create a ‘blooming' effect. It is then marinaded in buttermilk, dredged in gluten-free flour mixed with a cumin spice blend, and fried until crispy. It is paired with a cep purée – the same oil is used to cook the ceps each time, making each batch even better than the last.
"We try to make sure that we use the byproducts from everything that we make," says Hernandez. "We're not zero-waste, but trying to move towards that is always a goal, because there's no reason for not being sustainable any more."
Another popular dish has been the shorthorn rib-eye (£22) which uses 30-day-aged retired dairy cow meat from supplier Txuleta, drizzled with a chimichurri-style green sauce and topped with marinated white anchovies.
However, desserts are her personal favourites and draw on her time at St John – Hernandez remembers proprietor Fergus Henderson always having chocolate ice-cream for dessert when he dined in.
"There was something about seeing him eat this chocolate ice-cream like a kid, and it made me realise that's the goal. You want adults to forget that they're adults," she explains.
Wanting to recreate that childlike joy in her customers, the sweets at Silver Birch have a touch of whimsy and the menu features a Knickerbocker Glory, as well as an XXL lemon meringue éclair (both £7).
"I thought it would be hilarious to have this obscenely long éclair," laughs Hernandez. "Every time I've eaten an éclair they're always so small and just disappear and I get so sad. I can make it this long – so why not?"
For reopening, the chef is looking forward to being able to make use of the morels and wild garlic coming into season, as well as an upcoming partnership with Cornwall Projects to provide the kitchen with cull yaw (aged mutton).
Rather than awards – although she would not say no to them – the priority for Hernandez is creating a welcoming space where guests can feel comfortable and enjoy good food.
"We want to be open for a long time and to be a part of the fabric of our community," she says. "I cannot wait to see the day when we start having our regulars, when we see that first couple propose, from the first date to being there for their anniversary. Something that just stands the test of time; to leave a legacy that reminds people of good times."
The Silver Birch, 142 Chiswick High Road, London W4 1PU
From the menu
- Mussels, soy glaze, sorrel £9
- Marinated courgettes, ricotta, rocket £9
- Beetroots, goats' curd, figs £9
- Potato cabbage gratin £13
- Braised peppers, monkfish, fresh chorizo £17
- Truffled chicken and dumplings £17
- Ibérico schnitzel, cabbage, lemon, capers £19
- Fried tarte tatin, Cheddar £7
- Flourless chocolate cake £7
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