On Tuesday evening I was invited to try a new neighbourhood restaurant just opened in Shepherd’s Bush. Unfortunately this is not my neighbourhood. My nearest restaurant is an all-day Chinese buffet that also sells chips. And Sangria (£9 a jug). I did however invite a friend along who does live nearby. A (I’m still not sure about this initial thing, maybe I need to be more creative in coming up with pseudonyms for my dinner dates?) is a part of my ‘book group’. I use quote marks as we gave up trying to get everyone to read the same book a long time ago. We now just cook for each other and chat about life, feminism, and, on occasion, books.
Bush Hall Dining Rooms is part of Bush Hall (duh) – a live music and events venue where I once saw the Scissor Sisters perform (later that same night I saw Wagner of X Factor fame at G.A.Y – from the sublime to the ridiculous). Husband and wife team Charlie Raworth and Emma Hutchinson own the whole building, and decided to take over the licence for what was a greasy spoon and turn it into something they think local people really want. The inside has a slight New York diner feel to it – leather booths and red checkered flooring, naked hanging bulbs and a long dark wood bar. It feels modern and chic but not like it is trying too hard.
From the outset the service was attentive and friendly. I asked which white wine they would recommended from the list of carafes (I do like a restaurant that serves carafes, sometimes a bottle is just too much on a weekday evening) and took their recommendation for a lovely light, clean Pinot Grigio. The menu was slightly more adventurous than I was expecting. Alongside the standard cheeseburger and rib-eye, was seared tuna and stuffed courgette flowers. It was a good mix of fussy-eater-pleasers, and dishes that you could get genuinely excited about ordering. The biggest delight of the menu however was ‘The Art of Conversation’ printed on the back. It was witty and clever, and just a such lovely idea. Apparently other menus have Edwardian parlour games to try. Keen to try as much as possible we ordered two starters and two mains to share between us.
For starters we chose the duck egg, English asparagus soldiers and celery salt (£7.50), and the shrimp cocktail with Jack Daniels Marie Rose (8.50). The vibrant green asparagus was the right side of al dente, and the pale yellow yoke was perfectly runny. Sitting on top of our cocktail were two paprika sprinkled king prawns (I’ve just been down to ask Flatmate 1 what the difference is between a king and tiger prawn. She said, ‘Who cares? They’re all prawns. If they are that pedantic they need to get a life. It’s not like you are calling it a crab.’), with smaller crustaceans lurking in the thick punchy sauce beneath. Both dishes were perfectly executed takes on classics. Quite simply, I enjoyed eating them.
Our first main was the fish stew (£15) which consisted of generous chunks of firm white fish, clams, mussels and prawns in a lightly spiced tomato broth with a thin crisp piece of toast smothered in garlicky saffron aioli. They get top marks for choosing coley, pollock and red mullet, all, as far as I’m aware, sustainable species of fish. According to their menu they source all their produce, where possible, from the British Isles only going further afield when it ‘cannot be found in our own land or waters’. *Applauds*. We then moved on to ‘Pork 3 ways’ (£15). The three ways were pork belly, pork loin wrapped in prosciutto and rosemary, and, for want of a better word, a pork ball. They were topped with a healthy portion of crackling and a bowl of apple sauce sat on the side. The belly and loin were both excellent pieces of nicely cooked porkiness, but the pork ball was slightly on the dry side and a bit of a weak link. The crackling was top notch though, and the simple crab apple sauce delectable. In A’s words ‘they should bottle and sell it’.
For desert we choose a summer pudding with Devon clotted cream, and a stunning Earl Grey burnt cream (both £6). I liked the seasonal berry option, but the Bergamont scented thick cream that you found when you pierced the layer of crunchy shiny sugar was lick the bowl, and then the spoon, and then the waitress good.
The owners set out to open a restaurant that people actually want, and in this they couldn’t have been more successful. It is the antidote to all the cool-obsessed restaurants that have been popping up all over town the last two years. You can book a table, there is more than one dish on the menu, the seats are comfortable and children are actively encouraged (the kids menu comes with games, popcorn on the house and the offer to warm a bottle). They serve brunch and the papers on a weekend morning, and family style roasts (£14 a head, 48 hours to order, served on sharing platters so you can help yourself) on a Sunday. There is no time of the day or week they haven’t thought about what the locals need and want, and endeavored to meet it. Long after the queues have died down outside Meat Liquor, and people have got bored of burgers and lobsters, I predict this place will still be buzzing.
I was invited to try Bush Hall Dining Rooms by the restaurant. Many thanks for their generosity.