A quick zip on the overground brought us to South Hampstead in good time, and after a stroll through the leafy streets we were bang on time for our 6 pm reservation. We were the second table of the evening, but soon after we arrived it seemed as though the rest of the tables flooded in after us. This felt much more neighbourhood restaurant than Michelin recommended fine dining, which was pleasant in its own way, but also made me thankful for the voucher.
We were seated a table away from the glass doors leading out onto the terrace, which seemed like a wonderful location to dine in the summer. The restaurant seemed rather understaffed considering the crowd, and it took ages before we were given a menu, and another age for our orders to be taken. But the staff were friendly enough, and when they finally found a comfortable pace the rest of the evening progressed more smoothly.
One thing to note about the acoustics of the restaurant, is that after a while it starts to feel like you're in a particularly crowded pub. All the tables are pushed quite close to one another, and when the place gets packed it's hard to hear yourself over the din. We were less than half a meter away from the next couple, without much illusions of privacy. On the evening I was there, a rather unhappy baby was also present, and the family of four next to us looked particularly peeved at having their dinner constantly interrupted by ear splitting wails.
Soon after the glasses of prosecco that came with our set arrived, our pre-starter arrived. It was "Roast Chicken" - A shot glass of roast chicken jelly book-ended by mushroom and thyme creams, and topped with an onion tart with dollops of onion cream on each end.
It was an excellent start. The creams were light and brought out the taste of the jelly, which tasted like the drippings left over from well-roasted barbeque chicken. The tart had a great onion flavour and was quite spectacularly aromatic, and I just wonder what it would have tasted like warm, in contrast to the chilled 'roast chicken'. At room temperature, the tart had hardened slightly to a rather chewy consistency.
For his starter, B had the Salmon Terrine, a combination of citrus cured salmon, potted salmon and smoked salmon, with two slivers of pickled cucumber and caviar. It was supposed to come with grapefruit fluid gel, but it seemed to have been replaced by a couple wedges of actual grapefruit instead. There was a small cluster of salmon roe and a piece of salmon skin, and to finish the plate was drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. The terrine itself was pleasant enough, although there was no discernible different between the citrus cured salmon and the smoked version. Shame about the salmon skin as well, which was hard as rock. After a concerted nibble I still wasn't getting anywhere apart from maybe breaking my teeth, and there didn't seem to be much by way of taste in it either.
I ordered the Butternut Squash Risotto, and when the enormous portion came I felt quite overwhelmed. The roasted butternut squash was complemented by sage, pecorino cheese and a sweet biscuit crumble on the top. The risotto itself was decent, with a creamy texture that wasn't too heavy. The pieces of squash in the dish were amazingly sweet as well. But halfway through, I began struggling with the portion, with another three courses to go.
My Roast Cod came with a hazelnut crust, winter vegetable hash, mushroom puree, pickled onions and crispy kale. Unfortunately for the dish, the kale was the most memorable part of it. Fried to a crisp, they tasted a bit like dried seaweed. The hash was good or bad depending on which vegetable you got in each forkful. The brussel sprouts were an unfortunate starchy mess. fish itself was also a disappointment. The hazelnut crust, while fragrant, wasn't so much like a crust as a soggy layer atop the cod, which was tasteless on its own. Sure, the fish was juicy, but I felt like I was eating rather flaky water.
B's Duck, Curry Sauce and Chips fared a little better at least, with rather nice individual elements. You can't go all that wrong with tater tots, which here was called 'bombay potato chips'. The spice roasted duck breast was also quite good on its own, but completely lost when taken with the leg confit and lentil curry, which was a rich thing that would have gone splendidly with naan. Unfortunately the various parts just didn't go all that well together.
The meal picked up again when we were served our pre-dessert of Liquid Popcorn with caramel foam, which the maitre d' took pains to point out was "Real popcorn! Honest!". B thought it was ambrosia. The caramel foam had hints of bitter to it that made it seem less like a shot of pure sugar, and the liquid tasted a like a cross between butter popcorn and creamed sweetcorn.
Dessert for me was Valrhona Chocolate Mousse with white chocolate shavings and chocolate popping candy. The mousse looked like a massive turd, but ignoring the presentation, it was quite a delightful, diaphanous thing while tasting deeply chocolate-y The popping candy had the weakest fizzle of any popping candy I've ever encountered, but the chocolate coating may have had something to do with it.
B opted for the Lemon Meringue pie, which came with a lemon Eton mess and a lemon macaroon. He quite liked his dessert.
By the end of the meal we were just glad to escape the din. My main was a bit of a disaster given how promising the pre-starter was, but with the Groupon the whole thing didn't feel like such a waste.
One Blenheim Terrace, 1 Blenheim Terrace, NW8 0EH
One Blenheim Terrace, 1 Blenheim Terrace, NW8 0EH