A search for the best set lunches in London led me to Kitchen W8, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2011, not bad for a place that set up to become a beloved neighbourhood institution. Then again, considering that it's located in the well-heeled Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, perhaps I shouldn't be all that surprised. While further accolades haven't been forthcoming, most food guides do list it as one of the best places to get a quality lunch in London. At £19.50 for three well-portioned courses, it did extremely well.
(Edit 30/01/2013: It's been announced that Kitchen W8 has been awarded a Michelin Star in the 2013 Michelin Guide)
The restaurant itself feels sophisticated but not in an overbearing fashion. The dining room is segmented into a number of sections, creating a cosy and semi-private feel, and the noise level never rose above a comfortable chatter even though the dining room was well-occupied on my visit. While the walls are a rather dark beige, the interior is saved from blandness by a smattering of mirrors and rather interesting pieces of art. In addition, service was excellent throughout, knowledgeable, friendly and prompt even when the crowd spilled in.
My first course was a velouté of smoked bacon, grilled chicken wings, hazelnut and truffle. The hint of truffle was lost in the dish, but it was a rich experience all the same. The velouté itself was deeply umami, with buttery notes that I enjoyed. The bacon bits were a fun touch, and the toasted hazelnuts added an interesting crunch and a hint of bitterness that brought out the surprising sweetness of dish. But the revelation of the course was the chicken wing, almost melting on the tongue save for the last crunch from the skin. It was grilled to perfection and de-boned, so I could savour the blissful union of delicate meat and fat without the messiness usually involved.
My main course was a fillet of sea bream, with roasted slivers of onion, pumpkin gnocchi, curly kale and mushroom pureé. I've never enjoyed gnocchi, not since an unfortunate experience in Italy where I was served a massive plate full of starchy, heavy, floury blobs of dough in an unappetizing sauce, so I was hesitant with these as I always am. But the pumpkin flavour really shone through, and the pieces of gnocchi were squishy soft. On their own they were still a bit too starchy for my personal liking, but they went so well with the pureé that I finished all of them anyway.
The pureé had the misfortune of being the same colour as the walls of the restaurant, but taste-wise it fared much better, being smooth and aromatic. The kale hadn't lost its flavour in the cooking, while the onion was very lovingly caramelized, and went well with the sea bream. The fish itself was free from pesky bones, and very juicy. The skin held enough fat to be indulgent without overwhelming the flesh, and seemed wonderfully light until I finished the whole thing and it suddenly hit me how full I was.
For dessert was rhubarb fool, which made me think of summer more than anything. This was a bit heavier than I was expecting, creamy and frothy though it was, a somewhat more substantial version for winter perhaps? Also, no unsightly masses of boiled rhubarb here, only a deliriously pink jelly holding its sour tang, neatly policing the worst of the cloying excesses of the vanilla cream. The rhubarb cookies I could have done without, dry and brittle as they were, but ignoring them, it was a good end to a most satisfying meal.
Kitchen W8, 11-13 Abingdon Road, London W8 6AH