Recently I’ve been trying to make a habit of forcing myself to dine outside of London in the UK. My plans are taking shape, slowly – but I’ll admit I can be a little lazy now and again, so the idea of hopping on a bus for 20 minutes into zone one, does have its attractions. So one Saturday afternoon I plucked up the courage and got the bus (aka taxi) to Charlotte’s Place in Ealing after reading some very positive reviews. I was soon to discover that this neighbourhood gem which opened up in 1984 would far exceeded my expectations and serve what turned out to be a delightful tasting menu full of sumptuous dishes, intrigue, originality and above all, mouth-watering food. The head chef in charge of the kitchen operations here is Lee Cadden – Lee has had previous experience working in the kitchens of The Bingham and Malt House in Fulham – a restaurant which I also love.
There are surprisingly only a very small amount of restaurants in London which have been operating for over 30 years, especially the smaller ones. With such stiff competition in the market right now, people simply won’t accept sloppy seconds or mediocre food anymore – everyone’s becoming incredibly educated with their food and drink – so it was refreshing to see an old, established restaurant moving with the times and trends. Charlotte’s Place has recently launched a brand new 5 course tasting menu priced at a bargain £29.95 during the week or £34.95 at weekends – at either price it’s a steal. We started our sumptuous lunch here with a glass of bubbly and some bread & butter, it was good, but didn’t blow me away – neither do I think it was intended to do such a thing.
Starting us off into our five course journey was an amuse bouche of what looked like an ordinary stuffed potato skin, but was in fact a de-constructed version, filled with potato mouse, sour cream and a sprinkling of parmesan crisp – the skin was beautifully crisp too. If given the opportunity I’d have raided the kitchen for more. It’s simple, playful ideas like this which I love – plus who doesn’t like stuffed potato skins? Our next course turned out to be one of my favourites during our lunch. A beautiful creation made up of different textures of Isle of Wight tomatoes, all intensely flavoured – the tomato sorbet scoop was particularly outstanding. Dollops of Jersey milk curd really brought everything together and gave a nice creamy mouthful, while black olive made for a nice earthy addition. I didn’t much care for the rocket garnish – a nice rocket pesto drizzle over perhaps instead? In short, the dish was legendary – I’ve not ever used that word about a dish before.
Main courses continued with the full on flavour theme. Ink poached pollock with chickpea and harrisa. This was still a fabulous dish but on comparison to the whole meal, perhaps my least favourite. The fish itself couldn’t be faulted, pristine white flesh, falling apart from even the sight of my fork. I was watching Rick Stein the night before dining here and had been thinking about that dark abyss squid ink gives off – so it was lovely to see it being used again. Apart from Spanish cuisine, squid ink is surprisingly not used enough in cooking – perhaps chefs are simply scared of the mess? I liked the chickpea addition but I didn’t find it was particularly memorable – which may explain why I liked the dish least. Fourth course arrived and oh my – words can’t even begin to describe the utter pleasure it gave. The smell from that smoky bavette when it arrived at the table had me instantaneously hooked and the flavour continued all the way through on the palate, though the real smoky flavour wasn’t from the meat, but from those soft baby shallots, complimented by a legendary sweet and sticky parsnip. When it comes to food, it doesn’t get much better than this.
The one thing I love about the tasting menu offering here at Charlotte’s Place, is that it changes so regularly – most restaurants still churn out the same offering all the way through a single season. Desserts consisted of English strawberries, slathered in a mouth-watering frozen lemon curd – simple, but unbelievably satisfying. The real spectacle however was the condensed milk cream horn, granny smith apple compote and apple vinegar ice cream – imagine an apple turnover but with a little attitude and you’re almost in the right area. I didn’t get huge amounts of vinegar coming through in the ice cream (probably a good thing) but that said it was still very well made ice cream and that horn was oh-so crisp and flaky.
After five well portioned courses and copious amounts of wine, I was ready for bed by 3pm – Charlotte’s Place had put me into slow food induced coma. I’ll admit I did have my reservations about this restaurant and for some reason expected the travel from central London to Ealing wouldn’t result in me discovering a destination restaurant – but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Lee Cadden has created a marvellous menu here and dishes which not only excite, but give so much flavour – the enjoyment is endless. Charlotte’s Place isn’t just a very good restaurant in West London – It’s one of London’s best hidden gems. Fact.