Formerly known as Fish Hook, this restaurant now bears the name of the ambitious chef behind its kitchen doors, and if you like inventive food of the fine dining persuasion without the stifling fripperies and gargantuan prices that often come with it, then you’ll be convinced Michael Nadra is set for big things.
Already boasting a Michelin star restaurant in the shape of La Trompette – which, incidentally, Michael Nadra has on his CV – other fairly recent openings in Chiswick, such as Villandry Kitchen and Charlotte’s Bistro, as well as the brisk trade done up and down the High Road, shows residents of W4 love nothing more than to spend their spare time eating and drinking around the area’s burgeoning restaurant scene.
Tucked away on a residential street and with a dark, minimal exterior, it’s easy to be blissfully unaware of this unassuming eatery. Inside its partially frosted windows is a space of brown leather, dark woods and restrained lighting. For a special occasion for two there’s a booth cut into the front alcove which is wonderful, although, in the rest of the restaurant, the elbow room in between tables appears a bit of a tight squeeze. It isn’t going to impress people for its design, but it’s the sort of place where the food does the talking.
The feel is relaxed and comfortable rather like the surrounding streets. Couples start from thirtysomethings and rise, but you will even see the odd lucky child accompanied by a guilty father. Staff are there when you need them without making you feel like you’re in a goldfish bowl. Luckily there are no starchy white tablecloths, so staff can’t scrape the crumbs off your table in between courses – a relief if you find that a particularly irritating fine dining habit.
Previously the menu was almost exclusively seafood at Fish Hook but now Michael Nadra is reacquainting himself with the delights of meat. The result is a breath of fresh air in a neighbourhood dominated more conservative menus. Starters (all £8.50) include the magnificent seared tuna, soft shell crab tempura and prawn ravioli, a signature dish with more than a nod to Asia. It is served as three separate parts on the same plate - something that’s repeated in other dishes - and the result is extraordinary. The crab is served whole and is delicate, succulent and coated in a minimal but greaseless batter. Any top Chinese restaurant would be proud to send this out of the kitchen. In contrast, the prawn ravioli, at the opposite end of the plate, is clearly fresh and homemade, but the best part is the sliced tuna, which is served ceviche-style allowing it be dainty and supple. It sits on a bed of shredded cabbage and carrot which has a zingy dressing reminiscent of Thailand and is a joy to eat. Alternatively, a ham hock ravioli is presented in a soup bowl with a thin, watery chicken broth poured over it. Diced spring onion and pak choi give the dish a distinctly Oriental feel and it is another well-executed and enjoyable dish, even if it can’t live up to the heights scaled by the previous one.
The three-way technique is repeated on a main of pork, which presents tender loin, pork belly with a speckled crackling and a dense clump of pork cheek on a nest of tagliolini pasta. The pork belly, a ubiquitous dish in West London, is on another level altogether and the combination of crisp, sweet crackling and unctuous meat is a thing of wonder. The pork cheeks, a cut that’s become increasingly popular on menus in recent times, has a subtle but distinctly meaty flavour of its own. The pasta, it has to be said, does little to enhance proceedings, but there is a lovely bed of mash which is much more agreeable.
After years of specialising in fish, you’d expect the seafood to be on the money, and the sea bass with saffron lobster ravioli and an artery-coating basil and bisque sauce is of a very good standard but the rich, creamy sauce may become cloying for more delicate palates. All mains are larger in portion size than you might expect and they’re very competitively priced at £17 each – gastropubs in the area charge as much for steak and chips - and sides, such as the smoky spinach infused with nutmeg and garlic, are £3.50 each.
By the time you get to desserts, you wonder how the previous trickery is going to be repeated. But the answer sits at the top of the list: rhubarb three ways (crumble, sorbet and panna cotta). Evoking a memory of an experience of Francesco Mazzei’s L’Anima where a rhubarb pudding was so good it burnt itself into the subconscious, this dessert more than holds its own. A small pot of the rhubarb crumble is piping hot and the bitter taste from the rhubarb and sweet crunchy crumble are perfectly in sync. The sorbet, vividly pink and ice-cold, is a good foil for the crumble and the wobbly panna cotta is a very fine third part to the holy trinity of rhubarb desserts.
The wine list has been carefully constructed to offer a chance of finding something new and exciting, whilst also keeping people happy who always settle for a Sancerre or Merlot. A Pinot Nero (£33 a bottle) from Italy might not be the first thing to take your fancy, but don’t rule it out just because it’s relatively unknown in comparison to more recognisable Pinot-producing countries as it’s bursting with fruit, has a crisp acidity and a refreshing finish.
The Last Word
It takes a brave chef to put their name above the door but, in the case of Michael Nadra, it’s a move that’s been completely vindicated. If the inventive food is maintained at current levels it might not be long before Chiswick has two restaurants with Michelin stars.