One of the hardest parts of assimilating into my new London life has been embracing English pub culture. It’s taken me over two years and I still don’t quite get it. Let’s face it, I like the finer things in life: monogrammed cotton stationery, scented candles, gauzy linen tee shirts, the intoxicating scent of warm leather in a new car. Pubs are drab, clammy dens where you can taste the sweet tang of stale beer and deep fat fryer haze in the air. It’s impossible to get served in one, so you clamour for the barman’s attention and order a pint of ale, only to take a sip and discover it’s warm. People in pubs do not cast so much a glance your way, let alone approach you. If you attempt to engage new faces in conversation, you get the most mystified silence before they turn their greasy fingertips back to their crinkly mylar bag of crisps. You sit there and shift despondently in your pew-like seat amongst the uninterested crowd, and think to yourself how you just don’t quite get the pub scene.
Then I was tipped off by one of my most glamorous friends about The Chef’s Table at The Mall Tavern. It combines the comfort and informality of a pub atmosphere with a private dining experience that teases all of your senses because it is located inside the kitchen, where you are served a 3-course blind tasting menu by the chef himself, Jesse Dunford Wood.
Tucked away discreetly only moments from Notting Hill Gate, our party arrived to the pub on a drizzly Friday night and ascended the creaky stairs through the intense heat of the kitchen to our table. We squeezed comfortably into our seats between the walk-in freezer and the dishwasher, huge windows cracked open to let in the cool, misty air as patrons drank pints and chatted in hushed tones on the lamp-lit curb below.
As steel utensils clank inside pots, and plates clatter across the countertop, wine gushes into my glass and I become a part of the symphony of a working pub kitchen.
The starters came out first, with the chef serving and describing each dish.
‘Oysters & Champagne’ amuse bouche
Heirloom tomato and Lincolnshire Poacher salad
Chestnut hummus with rosemary pita bread
‘McTucky’s popcorn chicken nuggets’
A pub favorite, fried brie with cranberry sauce
Ricotta with roasted butternut squash and sprouts
Warm egg yolk in a halibut consommé – served in an eggshell
You have to stir the yolk and broth together to create a creamy fish chowder.
Chef Jesse Dunford Wood
Before our entrées even hit the table us girls were already so full we lamented not wearing leggings to dinner, or better yet a tent dress!
Pulled pork and roasted tomato
Finally, the plates were cleared and we all breathed a sigh of relief. That is, until the chef returned to roll a wide strip of parchment paper right down the middle of the table.
What have we gotten ourselves into?
For dessert, the lights dimmed, a fog machine whispered little puffs overhead, and the music came on to Willy Wonka singing “Pure Imagination.” And with that, the chef began to paint the table with a palette of chocolate mousse, caramel sauce and deconstructed raspberry cheesecake.
Lemon jelly, Arctic Roll (piña colada ice cream wrapped in puffy sponge cake), toasted marshmallow, deep-fried custard bites & banana purée
An impressive composition of a pudding! Spoonful after spoonful of sinful versions of sweet. After a few bites, I felt like Violet from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ – I needed to be rolled out!
Though at long last, I am finally beginning to get the English pub tradition.