db Eats: 108 Garage

db’s Lucy Shaw heads to exciting newcomer 108 Garage in Notting Hill for pig’s head croquettes, duck with salted miso fudge and a vibrant Valpolicella.

The concept: Housed in a former garage on Golborne Road in Notting Hill, 108 Garage is the progeny of an unlikely pairing between a fine art graduate and the man who was once dubbed ‘The Mafia’s Banker’. The latter, Luca Longobardi, cut his teeth on Wall Street then went on to co-own an investment bank in Brasil where he once spent a month in a high-security prison. He has since been fully exonerated of any wrong-doing and has penned a book about his ordeal.

Keen to open a seasonally focused London restaurant, Longobardi posted an advert for a chef on Gumtree and Chris Denney responded. Having worked under Nuno Mendez at Viajante, Phil Howard at The Square and Enrico Crippa at the three Michlin-starred Piazza Duomo in Alba, Denney has good pedigree.

Pig’s head croquette with smoked eel and kohlrabi

The décor: The restaurant’s former life as a garage is glaringly apparent as soon as you walk in. From its open brickwork, concrete flooring, copper-topped concrete bar and filament bulbs, the gritty décor hides big ambitions in the kitchen – a stark contrast I rather liked.

Forming the focal point of the main wall is a giant painting of man in Tudor attire who looks like he could be Henry VIII’s fencing partner. Those keen for a front row seat to the action should ask to be sat up at the counter, where you’ll find Denney running the show with operatic precision.

The food: As with any restaurant worth its (Maldon) salt these days, the menu at 108 Garage is local and seasonal in nature. It changes so often they don’t bother to put it online, which adds to the anticipation on my visit. Denney’s food is brave and daring, beautiful and delicious.

He’s not afraid of startling combinations that sound like they shouldn’t work but somehow do – chocolate mousse and artichoke ice cream is now of the menu but proved a popular pudding with hard to please Jay Rayner. On his current menu he pairs subtle scallops with fiery horseradish, and asparagus with matcha.

Dishes cost between £7-27, with the majority hovering around the £15 mark. It’s worth starting with the crunchy homemade sourdough and trio of spreads: whipped lardo butter, tarama and chicken liver parfait, all of which are so silky and seductive they threaten to annihilate your appetite before the main event has even begun. The tarama was particularly wonderful, its flavour subtle but persistent rather than alarmingly fishy.

A starter of creamy burrata with basil and tomato tea is as fresh as summer rain and seems to encapsulate British summertime in a bowl. A giant veal sweetbread meanwhile, is given cream and crunch with the addition of hazelnuts and sweetcorn, and added earthiness from shiitake mushrooms and a generous shaving of summer truffle.

Octopus, black garlic and harissa

Signature dishes: It’s hard to talk of signature dishes on an ever-changing menu, but the pig’s head croquette with smoked eel, lardo and kohlrabi will hopefully stick around, as it stood out as exceptional amid a strong line-up of dishes.

Painterly in presentation, with the canary yellow kohlrabi popping against the green of the nasturtium leaves, the croquette was hidden behind a gossamer-thin layer of lardo in a divine union of pig on pig.

Beside it, slivers of iridescent eel added bacon-like smoke to the intensely flavoured crispy croquette, while the tang of the kohlrabi sliced through the fat like a samurai sword through silk.

Another dish that shows off Denney’s derring-do approach to flavour combinations was the Creedy Caver duck with salted miso fudge, peaches and turnips, which sounds like something Baldrick might serve Blackadder but tasted sublime.

The fatty, perfectly pink duck was given appealing sweetness from the miso, juiciness from the peaches and acidity from tiny yellow tomatoes in a clever interplay of sweet and savoury that balances the tightrope perfectly.

The drinks: While you’re tucking into hunks of sourdough slathered in whipped lardo butter, it’s worth trying one of the cocktails – my Rosa María blended trendy Tequila with Cointreau, lime, rosemary and agave in a lip-smackingly refreshing sip with herbal hints.

Buttermilk, chervil and strawberry

On the wine front, the list is mainly made up of Italian, French and Spanish wines, with Italy given special attention perhaps in a hat tip to Denney’s stint at Piazza Duomo in Alba.

A Gavi di Gavi from Tenuta Olim Bauda was creamy, mineral and an ideal opener to the meal, while a lively, juicy Valpolicella from Latium Morini proved a perfect pairing for the duck with its bright notes of tart raspberry and sour cherry.

Who to know: Keen foodies should sit up at the bar and quiz Chris Denney about where he gets the inspiration for his madcap flavour combinations.

Don’t leave without: Dessert! The puds are an event here rather than an afterthought. The salted black cherry with raspberry and perilla was one of the most wonderful and intriguing desserts I’ve had in a long time.

It’s the kind of thing that tastes strange on your first spoonful, but keeps you coming back for more with its appealing saltiness balanced by the mouth-puckering tartness of the raspberries and the minty freshness of the perilla.

Last word: Having opened with very little PR, a buzz has quickly built around 108 Garage, which has emerged as one of the most exciting openings in London this year. If it doesn’t get a Michelin star I’d be amazed.

While many restaurants with Michelin ambitions take themselves far too seriously, 108 Garage has a sense of humour – in the ladies loos there’s a sign that reads, “Please stay seated for the entire performance”.

Don’t be fooled by the industrial décor, Denney couldn’t be more serious about his food and the dishes he’s serving, with their wild, irreverent but cleverly considered flavour combinations offer a snapshot of London’s casual fine dining scene at the top of its game. Not everything is perfect – service was slow on occasion and we had to ask for our wine twice, but overall it’s hard not to be charmed by this rough diamond.

108 Garage, 108 Golborne Road, London W10 5PS; Tel: +44 (0)20 8969 3769

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