To some, a restaurant called Kitchen Joel Antunes might suggest a simple, relaxed approach to both food and décor, perhaps in the style of a bistro, complete with wooden floor and seating, tightly packed bare tables and a blackboard menu.
This is far from the case with Joel Antunes’s restaurant, which opened in November 2011. In line with its Mayfair location in Old Burlington Street, it exudes glamour and sophistication. The long glass frontage overlooks an attractive 40 seat canopied terrace, ideal for al fresco dining. Inside, the low ceilinged 95 cover dining room has a French patterned limestone floor, comfortable leather chairs and banquettes and fine napery on well spaced tables. The collection of artwork, including pieces by Damien Hurst, Tracey Emin and Banksy, are best seen during the day, as the evening spotlighting produces a distinctly dim effect.
Nor can the food be described as simple. Whilst traditional bistro dishes like Coq au vin, beef tartare and foie gras terrine appear on the menu, their preparation is lifted by the creative talents of Joel Antunes, who gained a Michelin star for his brilliant but short lived Les Saveurs in 1994. At Kitchen Joel, his carte, which gives plenty of choice with 14 entrees, 12 mains and 8 desserts, emphasises the dishes of Provence, such as salad Nicoise, duck gizzards, marinated peppers with boquerones anchovies, and baby artichoke salad. Italian influences are also present, as seen in aubergine balsamico and buffalo mozzarella, wild mushroom risotto with parmesan, and oxtail tortellini with Swiss chard. Cooking is technically precise, with clarity of flavour, balance of texture and elegance in presentation. Whilst not cheap, prices are fair given the quality of ingredients and the Mayfair location: starters average £12, mains £24 and desserts £8,
Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in March 2012
Sliced baguette came with an olive oil and balsamic dip, as might be expected of the Mediterranean theme of the food.
An entrée of Hamachi ceviche avoided the excessive acidity often encountered in lesser establishments. The soft, fatty texture and slightly bland flavour of the fish proved an ideal vehicle for the citrus marinade, which showed good balance in its sweet, sour and spiced elements. Slivers of radish gave crunch whilst coriander leaves added a lively freshness to the dish.
Another entrée of confit duck gizzards saw the succulent, flavoursome offal in a rich sauce paired with well made potato gnocchi. Skinned broad beans and delicate pea shoots offset the richness perfectly.
Wild mushroom risotto, served in dainty copper saucepans, benefitted from a well flavoured stock. The rich, creamy rice, properly al dente, delighted with its generous blend of cepes and parmesan. Here was basically a simple dish, cooked with care, that produced a taste sensation.
A main course of Blue shrimp saw six large prawns perfectly timed to retain their sweet succulence. Served on a base of curried vermicelli and seafood stock, the gentle spicing allowed the freshness of the shellfish to shine.
Coq au vin revealed the excellence of long slow cooking. Served in a cast iron cocotte, the flavoursome bird came with a glossy, intensely rich, high reduced – but not salty – red wine sauce. Properly garnished with lardons, baby onions and mushrooms, with the addition of baby carrots that added a splash of colour, this was another well executed dish.
The accompanying French beans were well rendered, although the gratin dauphinoise would have benefited from less cream.
Perhaps desserts are the most adventurous part of the menu with new creations such as Le “Kit Kat” caramel with tonka bean ice cream and semi freddo, chocolate streusel and coffee granite. However, classical dishes are not ignored; indeed, a caramel mille-feuille was a veritable master class in art of pastry. The crisp, delicate buttery layers simply melted in the mouth, whilst the caramel and crème patissiere added sweetness and soft texture to this simple but sublime offering.
Another favourite, Colonel a la Ciroc, saw a lively lemon sorbet doused with vodka. Caramel and vanilla ice creams were in the same league in terms of smooth, velvety texture and pronounced flavour.
Good coffee and petit fours completed a memorable meal.
The wine list treads a well trodden path, mainly through the regions of France. In addition to the 140 bins, there is a more affordable selection of 11 by the glass. Service is friendly, solicitous and eager to please.
Overall, Joel Antunes can be justifiably pleased with his latest restaurant, as his brief conversation with us at the end of the meal testified. No doubt Kitchen Joel, with its combination of good food and chic surroundings will hold its own in the fierce competition of London’s West End.