Unusual ingredient combos and consummate skill
Claim to fame: Intelligent fusion food in up-and-coming Ladbroke Grove
Reason to go: The most thrilling cooking in northwest London
To look out for: the ‘surprise’ dishes provided by the kitchen
Ladbroke Grove has always been effortlessly edgy; home to Moroccan minicab offices and random loitering youths. But that’s changing quickly as gentrification is knocking at its door and a handful of smart eateries are bringing fine dining to a down-at-heel neighborhood. 108 Garage is the newest restaurant, and by far the best. The interior has been stripped back to bare bricks and low-lit bohemian chic; the greeter tending the door has emo-like long blue hair.
You’re going to want to sit at the copper-topped bar, which doubles as a counter for the open kitchen. This is where you’ll catch Head Chef Chris Denney dart between salamander and Big Green Egg, swearing in an unselfconscious way. That charcoal barbecue cooker is put to use tenderising a white turnip, which is then doused with brown-butter hollandaise and puffed spelt to vary the texture; an oddly satisfying combination that appears on both the à la carte- and the tasting menu. Opt for the latter and you’ll experience some prized dishes such as the fallow deer venison, cooked rare and moist, served with pickled red cabbage and little cubes of frozen blue cheese that give unexpected flavor bursts.
Ingredients are consistently excellent; from lightly cured mackerel that’s so fresh it’s almost sashimi, to the accompanying wafers of crisped pink Yorkshire rhubarb that give a contrasting acidity to the dish. Acidity is notably well-judged throughout the meal; a beef short rib dish flavored with black garlic, dill pickle tartare and bitter dandelion leaves comes to mind.
Offbeat nibbles include 108’s own excellent sourdough, served with whipped lardo butter, pale grey tarama, and chicken liver parfait, as well as a refreshing sorbet flavored with shiso and apple, filling the interstice between main course and dessert.
Crémeux, that classic chocolate pudding, is currently enjoying a revival, albeit in an innovative way, presented on a bed of popped wild rice, with a suitably modern scoop of artichoke ice cream.
Although 108 Garage is styled like a louche Notting Hill bar, the drinks play second fiddle to the food. There’s a decent enough wine list; there’s also a cocktail list with a score of suitably modish concoctions. Yet nobody comes here just to drink: it’s a culinary destination, and one that was a hit within days of opening. A wait of two weeks for a dinner table reservation isn’t unusual. The staff – doe-eyed women and rakish-looking men – all look too slim to enjoy eating, but they take care of their customers with admirable good cheer and efficiency, under the watchful eye of ever-present owner Luca Longobardi.