Andy Mossack reviews Fiend by Chris Denney’s new Notting Hill restaurant.
I think it must have been the painting of the bevvy of scantily clad angels that did it for me. Beautiful beings in suggestive carnal poses either pre, post or something in-between, that conceivably provided some clue as to the provenance of Fiend’s moniker.
Or perhaps I was just overthinking this and it really was just about Chris Denney’s fiendishly good culinary skills. Remember, this is a chef with a bit of previous who, it is rumoured, wanted to be “the great disruptive force in British food”. Who knows? Even the website is seriously mysterious, taking minimalism to whole new level. What I can tell you, is this was a very memorable food experience with some highly original matchups, made even more palatable by genius wine pairings courtesy of wine boss Beth Brickenden.
Fiend by Chris Denney is a double-fronted restaurant at the quieter end of Portobello Road, the part that’s dominated by the A40 flyover, yet still manages to retain its hip spirit. Inside is a lot of dark tones; plenty of devilish blacks with occasional reds to spice things up. There’s an open kitchen where diners can watch the culinary magic happen, while the basement cocktail bar-to-be promises plenty of space below deck for kibbitzing over some creative cocktail concoctions no doubt. And word seems to have already spread around Notting Hill’s glitterati, as despite being midweek, all the bases were loaded on both sides of the restaurant.
Still nursing the glow of landing a window seat table, we sat anticipating a culinary masterclass, eschewing the a la carte for Denney’s seven course tasting menu with pairings.
Nibbles first. A tub of mini gherkins and slices of lamb salami brought back fond memories of snacking on pintxos in Bilbao. Probably nothing to do with Bilbao or pintxos but hey, what can I tell you.
Following a very moreish sardine and tomato taco amuse bouche, Beth arrived armed with a couple of flutes of chilled Wiston Estate Brut to match up with our chicken liver parfait avec brioche. A squat tub of parfait impressively guarded by two perfectly glazed and rounded brioche. I can’t deny the pairing. A beautiful combo of bubbles, creamy liver, and just-baked brioche.
Just as well we kept a few morsels of our brioche back as they proved perfectly adroit in mopping up the next course. White beetroot with apple, hazelnut, and buttermilk. Arrayed in a perfect circle the tarty beets provided a comfy bed for the very tasty dollop of buttermilk. I can tell you we mopped up every scrap of that dish.
Asparagus was up next, lightly steamed with a cured duck egg and sesame. The asparagus ingeniously dusted with grated yolk. Beth appeared once more promising more delightful bursts of flavour as she poured a chilled golden-hued Bourgogne aligoté. “You can’t beat asparagus and aligoté” she announced. We simply nodded sipped and ate.
A pasta dish next and a change of colour from Beth. We were promised lamb heart agnolotti, with kohlrabi in a mustard dashi soup. I’m a fan of the Italy’s Piedmont region. The pasta is robust and eggy up there, but it’s also the home of the majestic Barolo. Our agnolotti did Piedmont proud sitting in a very tasty broth topped with thin slices of kohlrabi turnip. But for the wine pairing Beth turned to France once again with a dark purple Syrah from St Joseph in northern Rhone.
With a choice of mains next, we decide to have one of each and compare. A belter of vegetarian dish for me; a generous slice of celeriac with mushroom, pistachio granola and hollandaise. While my companion feasted on an olive-fed confit duck leg which was, and I quote, “melt in the mouth crazy.” Personally, I think my celeriac was a total triumph and won the day. But it was a close-run thing. We both decided to have the pinot pairing from Baden, although I had a touch of winy envy when the table next to us had an Alsace pinot blanc, with their celeriac.
A cracking cucumber and dill mouth-cleanser later we were facing the home straight.
The crème caramel with rhubarb and marjoram was, for me, off the charts. I’m a huge rhubarb fan anyway and seeing a small tub of it next to a mount of creamy caramel was a perfect end to a sensational tasting experience.
But there was one more surprise. Another chef treat. A trio of very unlikely teammates. Carrot, liquorice, and coriander sorbet. Finally, a fiendish combination of flavours that you wouldn’t think would go together in a month of Sundays.
Undoubtedly, Chris Denney is master craftsman, and this tasting menu is a perfect stage to showcase his extraordinary array of flavours.
Forget the scantily clad angels. I reckon the devil is most certainly in the detail that’s sitting on your plate. Highly recommended.
All images (C) Andy Mossack apart from the Agnolotti, credit Jean Cazzels, and interiors.
Tell me more about Fiend by Chris Denney
Fiend by Chris Denney, 301 Portobello Rd, London W10 5TD
T: 020 3971 8404 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Seven-course tasting menu plus chef treats at Fiend by Chris Denney at £70 Wine parings £45
Fiend by Chris Denney Open 6 pm to midnight Tuesday to Thursday and 11 am to 12.30 am Friday and Saturday.