11 August 2014

The Shed, Notting Hill

Following the disappointment of last week's meal at 21, I was on the hunt for somewhere to knock me completely out of the water. After a Friday night filled with beer and ferocious games of Articulate (we're wild), Saturday called for some civility and dinner was the perfect answer so I left rough-and-ready East to meet Sophie on the other, more pristine side of town.

After a couple of gin and tonics at hers, we decided to jump on the bus to Notting Hill and try for a table at The Shed (somewhere I'd chosen, having imaginatively googled 'restaurants Notting Hill'). Tucked off the main drag, The Shed's a tiny barn of a building hidden behind trellis and creepers that if you weren't looking, you'd probably miss. But miss it we didn't and managed to bag one of the last tables before the 9pm rush.
The interior is deceptively small, but with the help of cleverly placed wall mirrors at either end of the restaurant you'd be forgiven that there were double the number of diners with you. And as you'd expect from a place called The Shed, the decor's quite rustic - lots of wood and old school metal bar stools, gardening implements strung across the ceiling and colourful oil drums standing as table bases. They have a combination of individual tables, bar type benches and the bookable Butcher's Table to choose from and suit your mood - we chose the benches for a proper catch up and with twee-sounding Twinkles in hand, dove straight into the delicious sounding menu.

Like many a place these days, The Shed's built on sharing plates, and split further into mouthfuls (canape type bites), cured meats (self-explanatory, from Nutbourne Manor in Sussex), slow cooking and fast cooking and they recommend two or three of the daily-changing dishes apiece. We chose from each section of the menu and were definitely not disappointed.

First up, thick wedges of The Shed's sourdough bread. Light and fluffy and perfect for pulling apart and smothering with butter whilst we waited for the broad bean hummus, heritage carrots and dukkah to arrive. We dove straight in to it - chunky and green and spiked with the minty flavours of the dukkah. Crisp purple carrots and the thinnest of crisp bread were ideal for spooning and scraping this fresh little starter for ten.

Soon after, the Nutbourne air-cured ham arrived. These were deliciously thick slices of deep red ham (none of that anaemic meat you find in supermarkets) with ribbons of salty fat around the outside and peppery rocket to offset it all, carved straight from the joint by the resident butcher. Then came the hake with lemon potato vinaigrette, peppers, samphire and dill which was one of the stand-out dishes (amongst all the other stand-outs) of the evening with the crispy-skinned fish sitting plump on the tangy yet creamy lemon potatoes. I could gladly eat this for the rest of my life and have every intention on attempting to recreate it at home as soon as I can.
Then - and we started to wonder if the kitchen times their 'courses' with perfect precision - came the black tagliatelle with Portland brown crab that we'd been warned was very fishy. Fishy it was, but perfectly so. The wide ribbons of pasta were coated in the tasty, salty crab meat and finished with a kick of chilli and garlic that just melted altogether in the mouth. As a recent convent to crab, this dish could have been completely overwhelming and off-putting but I loved its bold flavours even more.

The penultimate dish was the pan fried goats cheese with honey, thyme and hazelnuts. With a nod to French cuisine and their penchant for serving cheese halfway through the meal, this was a tangy little palate cleanser that's had me aching over it for days. Honey and goats cheese is a classic combination but the added crunch of the hazelnuts really brought this to life. Ideal ahead of the Sussex lamb, rainbow cauliflower, spinach, rosemary and almonds that came out last. I never eat lamb so ordering this dish could have been a real mistake but the perfectly pink meat coupled with the rich rosemary jus and florets of cauliflower were a match made in heaven that even the hardiest of non-lamb lovers (me) couldn't fault. Whether I'm completely converted remains to be seen, however.

We were so full after this so didn't manage the coveted cheese or puddings, but instead went for another cocktail each. I chose the to-die for 'Daily Loosener' of Sipsmith vodka, summer berries (a devilishly soaked cherry), lemon, cardamom and soda. Order it everywhere you can as this drink is a keeper.

Everything was on absolute point at The Shed this evening. The atmosphere was buzzing, music was whimsical (Hot 8 Brass Band's cover of Marvin Gaye, for example) and the service impeccable. From the warm smile when we walked in to the constant top up of our water, the waiters and waitresses were really friendly and unobtrusive and an absolute delight to have buzzing around.  Our meal worked out at £51 each (including the 12.5% tip) but is definitely one of the best I've ever had in London, so I'll definitely be back. Five out of five, for sure.
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