If you have not yet had the unmatchable pleasure of dining at Medlar you must drop everything and make a booking immediately.
I have been trying to get to Medlar for months. (I am not just saying this because by now everyone has eaten there, written a (glowing) review, and I am trying to catch up.) It has been difficult, however, to persuade my London compadres to voyage to a part of Chelsea where there are no nearby tube stops. So I took advantage of an out-of-town visitor to innocently suggest we could ‘walk across the park’ (as in Hyde Park) to the V & A and then on to Medlar. Two hours later, starving, we turned up for our 1 pm reservation.
Medlar has sensibly left the running of the front of the house to manager Matt, who has worked, it seems, at every great restaurant in London (like most of the staff and owners, he’s also an alum of Chez Bruce). It shows. Undecided about our starters (there were too many appealing choices), on his recommendation we ordered the duck egg tart and the crab raviolo, one of chef and co-owner Joe Mercer’s signature dishes. The “tart” –a circle of puff pastry with a fried duck egg, balanced on top of braised greens and served with savoury girolles, lardons, turnip purée and sautéed duck heart – was like being hit with an umami two-by-four, but at the same time wonderfully complex and texturally satisfying. Adding the dense, oxblood-rare duck heart to the plate was a stroke of brilliance.
The same careful attention to texture and balance was evident in the raviolo. The portion was surprisingly huge, and the sauce seriously rich, but the dish was elevated and refined by delicate crabmeat, thin al dente pasta, and briny, crunchy samphire.
For her main, friend C ordered the under blade fillet of beef with persillade snails, triple cooked chips, and béarnaise. I absolutely loved this dish. The meat was superb, and delicious paired with the garlicky snails (I’ll have to try this one at home), but my lord, the triple cooked chips completely blew me away. I am not joking when I say that these are the best chips I have ever eaten. (Watch out, Heston!) The exterior had that phenomenal flaky crispness that only beef dripping can give (but, like, TRIPLED), while inside they were hot and moist. Because I was so plainly gobsmacked, lovely Matt came over and painstakingly explained to me how they were made (steam the potatoes, don’t boil them, and start them in a low oven before finishing them at 180 degrees).
Again at Matt’s suggestion – every restaurant should have front of the house staff that know so well what the kitchen is doing – I ordered the roast grouse (the only supplement on the menu, £5), cheekily served with bread sauce. Friend C kept repeating, “the grouse is cooked PERFECTLY.” Grouse is hard to do properly. This was exquisitely dark pink throughout, perfectly rested, and complemented by a jus made ever-so-slightly sweet by damsons. I also enjoyed the beautiful paté (mousse, really) of the grouse heart and liver (a nod to France on my otherwise thoroughly British plate).
For dessert Matt recommended the vanilla custard (served with black currant compote and langues de chat). Putting vanilla custard on the menu is a ballsy move. Vanilla custard is so simple and classic that if it’s not done absolutely right, it’s a dud. It was exceptional – silky, creamy, and glorious with the acidic bright compote. We had the pear and frangipane tart with clotted cream as well, which also was bloody flawless.
A couple other things. The wine list is excellent. I appreciate, as well, that several wines are offered in carafes. There are little pampering touches, such as the glass of ice and plate of lemon slices that are constantly replenished along with the water. The fact that because I asked about the grapefruit sorbet, I was given a little tasting portion. Some people call Medlar a “neighborhood restaurant” – but with this level of cooking and the superlative service, it puts a lot of so-called destination restaurants to shame. What are you waiting for? GO!
438 Kings Road, Chelsea SW10 0LJ
Phone: 020 7349 1900
Price per person: £25 three-course menu at lunchtime, £39.50 at dinnertime. (At lunchtime, we spent about £50 per person including wine and service.)
The verdict: Must try