Rabbit – King’s Road
Posted on January 17, 2015
Brought up on a smallholding vineyard in West Sussex on an alfresco diet of hunting, foraging and lungfuls of country air, the Gladwin boys enjoyed a bucolic childhood, one that left them fated for the food business. But even so, a restaurant cooperative inspired by the frolics and the landscape of their youth couldn’t have been anything more than a pipedream. Who else in their right mind would pay to eat flora from the underside of a rotting trunk or choose ruminant offal over prime cuts unless they’ve been bred that way? Well these days it seems just about everyone.
Foraging is on trend. What was once a form of survival has become a fashion statement in the restaurant world. It’s seen as wholeheartedly British and probably why London in particular can’t get enough of it. And so came the three brothers’ time. It was as if they had predicted the coming of a wild-food-boom and, right on cue, they seamlessly dovetailed their careers to satiate the capital’s clucking for a taste of the English hedgerow.
Here’s a bit of back-story: Richard followed in his restaurateur father’s wellie-steps, apprenticing alongside him before opening restaurants in New York and managing a place in Battersea. Oliver became a chef and trained in notable places all over London as well as the River Cottage in Dorset where he crossed paths with rural pinup Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, joining his band of merry, middle-class, hunter-breeder-gatherers. The youngest, Gregory, became a farmer and trusted supplier – he now owns 450 acres of land from where a lot of their produce is grown.
And so when forage-fever peaked they decided to go it alone together. First they opened The Shed in Notting Hill, delivering seasonal Sussex produce suitable for sharing. It was a huge hit. So much so that soon after, out of The Shed sprung Rabbit on King’s Road. It wasn’t just a sibling it was practically a twin. It remained true to their beginnings, offering exactly the same fare in exactly the same way to another moneyed part of West London; somewhere else for well-to-do, Home Counties expats to exhume their countrified upbringings and talk fondly of dressage, fly-fishing and their tweed clad retrievers.
All of this is enough to give you green fingers and grubby nails. The sort of story to unearth the agrarian in anyone. I can picture metropolitan converts sitting wistfully on Rabbit’s iron tractor seats recalling memories of unloved chickens, sit-on lawnmowers and muddy waterproofs; scraping the barrel of pastoral allegiance and asking themselves why they didn’t spend more time rummaging for lovage instead of counting down the days until they could get the hell out of there and settle in the city. In these cases nostalgia tends to presents itself in hand-me-down Hunters and a threadbare Barbour on a riverbank in Marlow. But plonk them in here with a bit of Pony Club patter and before you know it they’ll have shamelessly romanticized a rustic youth to rival the Gladwins’ own.
Rabbit’s whitewashed brickwork, wooden furniture and dodgy taxidermy might remind some that they once used to live in sight of a field, but the whole place signposts just what they missed out on. It’s a celebration of rural living, drawing on those glorious Nutbourne days.
I met with some longstanding friends for dinner. Three brothers, as it happens, one of whom was a proper agri’ lad. Fittingly, we were regaled with tales of beating, bullocks and rutting in the back of Landies as we tucked into mouthfuls – canapés as they are known in the city – of crab bombs with seaweed mayo and mushroom and marmite éclairs. The former exploded with the savouriness of brown crabmeat but the choux was a damp squib. I neither loved nor hated it.
The rest of the menu comprised a selection of plates divisible only by speed of cooking; and fast or slow isn’t particularly helpful when you’re trying to cobble together a coherent meal. The small plate sharing debate – which in my mind will never work nor satisfy unless you’re eating Japanese izakaya or Spanish tapas – was broached once again.
Hearty winter dishes of wild mushrooms, celeriac puree and truffle and parpadelle with duck ragu merit a full-sized plate. Big, rich flavours are not to be nibbled at. It isn’t rabbit food. Well it is, but you know what I mean. You need a spoon and a hunk of bread and a knitted jumper. It’s that kind of fodder.
Venison with onion squash puree was delightfully seasonal and jazzed up with nuts and mosses like an edible woodland floor. It was deer, diet and habitat on a plate. Two vegetarian dishes, one of chargrilled leeks, the other of brussel sprouts (presumably Nutbourne veg) were each partnered with cheeses to reasonable effect but ensured there was no respite to the meal’s richness. I know the season dictates, but the light touch and zing of spring wouldn’t have gone amiss here.
Leftover mussel shells were solitary reminders that a beautiful dish of gurnard and artichoke once stood; gravestones in memoriam to a delectable plate that didn’t last long. Lamb chips with harissa were popular jenga blocks of slow cooked meat, bread crumbed and lifted by lemon and parsley. There were others, I remember the quail and mackerel offerings were tasty and well executed, reminiscent of Rob Gills’ cooking at The Dairy, but slightly less refined with fewer cheffy techniques.
Desserts included all manner of lovely things – homemade takes on Vienetta and Bourbon biscuits, baked apples and treacle tarts. The only misfire was the ice cream flavoured with rose. Overly perfumed, it was an unpleasant blend of pensioners’ knicker drawers and Turkish delight.
By eating in Rabbit, we knowingly partake in a slice of the English simple life. We share the Gladwins’ early memories of their idyllic rural setting and London’s foraging fad. But we also have to share our dinner. Something I’m not so keen on doing. I don’t want the fork to have more action than my stomach as it pokes about delivering thimblefuls to a voracious appetite. Courtesy stipulates to never take too much, leave plenty behind and NEVER take the last mouthful without asking. I don’t want to worry about decorum at dinner. But I suppose in this instance, such British food requires stoic British eating.