Did you know there was a restaurant in Bonhams Auction House in the West End? It’s been open since the end of 2014 and already holds a Michelin star. Not bad going for the young chef, Tom Kemble, in charge of his own restaurant for the first time.
Kemble has worked at the legendary Faviken in Sweden and Hedone in Chiswick, both known for their worship of the perfect ingredient and you can tell. The quality of the produce is noticeably good, though -and this is not difficult- the cooking appears slightly less austere than that I experienced at Hedone.
Not only that but the wine list is worth a look on its own. In charge of alcoholic proceedings is the head of Bonhams wine department and the sommelier, who is ex -Bibendum. Had I been paying, I might have chosen one of their twenty or so fine wines-by-the-glass, which are great value. Remarkable restraint limited my choice to a very agreeable bottle of white Burgundy, around the £35 mark.
Whilst waiting for the main event and talking about the only subject on everyone’s lips for the last month, we polish off some wondrous sourdough with good, rich, deep yellow butter. I stop at the one piece, which I manage to eat more slowly than everyone else. This is because I consciously make myself wait and leave half on the plate, in a test of willpower.
There is nothing in the description “Isle of Wight Tomato Tart with dill flower, buffalo mozzarella and pesto ” which prepares me for the dish that arrives. It’s not what I would ever describe as a tart. Call me old-fashioned but I like a bit of proper pastry myself, you know, like in a tart.
This version is more a savoury mille-feuille, without the flakiness you associate with that description but following tradition to a point, by the stacking of wafer-thin slices of crisp pastry, interspersed with layers of tomato in a variety of colours, blobs of softest mozzarella and pesto at its base.
It’s elegantly presented ladies-who-lunch food, with a little smattering of what appears to be paprika. I won’t get fat eating this, I think, disappointed and happy at the same time. I finish the remaining bread.
I eye the Isle of Mull scallop sashimi of my neighbour, so very on trend, so very 2016. I’m afraid we may have reached peak scallop sashimi on menus but no matter; if you like scallop sashimi I suspect you will be happy with the treatment given to it here. Simply presented with peas, thinly sliced radish, lemon confit and dill oil this looked pretty pretty.
My pan-roasted monkfish, with ratatouille-stuffed courgette flowers, confit tomato and red pepper dashi foam is as meaty a dish as can be had without meat being involved. It comes crammed together in the middle of the plate, perfect for Instagramming. I wonder how many chefs now prepare their dishes so that they are Instagram-friendly. I suspect quite a few. These days you rarely see those towers of food, you know, with a precarious piece of protein perched on the top of vegetables, so that the whole thing collapses on the plate as soon as you insert your fork, like an edible Jenga tower.
Back to the monkfish, which is of superb quality, tender and almost sweet. Browned on the outside, firm within. I remember now that I don’t love ratatouille as much as I once did, but no matter. I’d order this again in the bat of an eyelid. The cooking is precise and restrained.
I am able to consider dessert because I am not full. No one else wants dessert but I suggest a couple of desserts for my friend the table. I sense some mild resistance but I push on nonetheless. I have readers.
We have the Bonhams Chocolate bar, which is like a posh Mars bar ice cream but better. I have to cut it into quarters, because obviously the others discover that they are able to manage dessert after all. The passion fruit sorbet that accompanies it is so tart that it almost makes my lips pucker.
The Tulameen Raspberry feuilleté is another construction of wonder, a sort of sweet variation on the tomato non-tart. Again, in my head I am thinking soft flaky layers of pastry, a sort of raspberry slice. My head is disappointed by the ultra thin layers of crisp pastry. It is not by any stretch of the imagination a flaky or puff pastry and I don’t know why they raise my hopes, to be dashed on a crispy wafer.
It tastes good though and it looks dramatic, with what I imagine is frozen powdered raspberry all over it. It’s very light.
Some excellent salted caramels and macarons tip me over the edge into the fullness I want when eating out.
Judgement: Bonhams is a sophisticated modern gem of a restaurant, perfect for entertaining your more discerning client. It would also work well as a safe place for parents and lack of background music (the joy) means that you can actually have a conversation without shouting. The fine wine list is a real draw, and if you go to town, it’s probably best to make sure you don’t leave via the auction rooms on your way out. An ace restaurant with an decent auction house attached.
Scallops of sweetness and joy