Restaurants James Pembroke
MURIEL’S KITCHEN, SOUTH KENSINGTON, LONDON SW7 BRASSICA, BEAMINSTER, DORSET
‘You choose, James. Somewhere simple but cheap and near the V&A,’ declaimed Robert, winner of the Donald Trelford Award for Belated Fatherhood (Wessex and Wales section).
Match-fit Robert has four delightful children, aged two to 20 – so this was quite a challenge, not least because, as an expert on early Georgian forks, he’s quite fastidious. Chains like Honest Burger and Franco Manca would never wash. I like the caffs in the V&A but they are incredibly noisy in August. Tripadvisor is wholly unreliable, given it’s written by the computer-in-bedroom folk. Harden’s is as unfathomable as Michelin is unpredictable in its elitism.
I have developed a fail-safe, speedy method for tracking down restaurants in lesser-known quarters: go to Google and choose a restaurant with 4.5 stars or above. So, there we were, all eight of us, in Muriel’s Kitchen, set on the former site of old Dino’s, in that semicircular parade of shops that shelters South Ken tube, like cowboy wagons.
As Robert observed, you could easily walk straight past it: the shopfront, pine flooring and bright, white table and chairs could come from the Chain Restaurant Décor Warehouse, but the menu and service are wholly village tearoom. They’re open all day from 8am to 11pm, serving up treats such as lasagne (£9.99), steak and chips (£11.50) and poached eggs on avocado (£9.50), with all their ingredients coming from specific suppliers, such as A Sole, the Cambridge greengrocer.
We had the sweet potato, spinach and chickpea curry (£11.50). It’s the best English curry I have had since school because they use that vital yet neglected store-cupboard essential: the sultana. They also serve wine at £5 a glass. It’s the Sea of Tranquillity after taking the grandchildren to the Science Museum.
After indulging in this bath of rural yesteryear, it was time to be hit with
urban sophistication, and where better than West Dorset? The streets of Bridport are strewn with exiled Yummy Mummies from Notting Hill and North Kensington, resigned to the knowledge their husband’s hat-painting mail-order business is more cheaply run out west, where trust funds buy just so many more square yards of dining room.
Every other shop sells coffee to this flotsam; their hub is the Green Yard Café, where they bay all morning at each other in multicoloured knitwear and dirty hair about school fees. Our local friend, Emily, who glazes mirrors (occasionally), took us off to Brassica, in Beaminster. Out of the frying pan… the shops of the beautiful market square have been split equally between estate agents and Brassica (both shop and excellent restaurant).
Fifteen years ago, I went to collect a breeding sow from a nearby farm to initiate my own disastrous five-year career as a DFL (Down from London). In return, his porky human vendor generously insisted he treated me to cheesy chips en route – ‘Gotta have the cheesy ones.’ Unlike at Brassica, I don’t remember their offering me an apricot Bellini to wash it down. I have to admit I was far happier sitting in Brassica’s bay window with mussels followed by hake with lentils, than eating cheesy chips with a Tamworth sow waiting in the boot of my car.
Muriel’s Kitchen, 1-3 Pelham Street, London SW7 2ND; www.murielskitchen. co.uk; 020 7589 3511
Brassica, 4 The Square, Beaminster, Dorset DT8 3AS; www. brassicarestaurant.co.uk; 01308 538100; prix fixe menu – £20 for three courses