The Test Kitchen by Adam Simmonds is a breath of fresh air for the Soho fine-dining scene
Adam Simmonds is the latest of a series of michelin-starred chefs (Phil Howard and Claude Bosi recently) who left their celebrated restaurant and started a new adventure. While the tendency seemed to be to stay away from the West End, Simmonds moved to its very heart: Soho. Set on the once glorious grounds of Barrafina (which moved to a larger location nearby), the English chef started what’s arguably one of the most ambitious projects London has seen in the last year or so: a 12-month pop-up set to become a permanent place.
The Test Kitchen (not to be confused with the Cape Town restaurant) is a real modern culinary experience. The space is still very similar to the Spanish bistro: the guests sit at the L-shaped bar where cooks and waiters serve them from inside the kitchen. The menu is divided in three – vegetables, fish and meat – with no distinction between starter and main. It’s the increasingly trendy small-plate format.
The food is so delicious we went twice to try it all. First the White Asparagus, Linzer Potatoes, Caviar, Whey: a tribute to the glorious asparagus season enriched by whey, little crisps and caviar. A bite of it tells more than a thousand words about the mastery of the chef and his understanding of produce, flavours and pairings.
Simmonds himself comes to serve some of the dishes, especially if there’s a sauce to pour. We see him shortly to present the stunning Rock Oyster, Oscietra Caviar, Cucumber, Kiwi: even if many claim that oysters can taste of cucumber, the actual cucumber aroma can easily be overwhelming – especially if you want to savour the natural flavour of the raw mollusc – but he makes it work.
The best of the fish, though, is hands down the Poached Scallop, Nashi Pear, Sesame, Dashi. A very Japanese-influenced dish, the scallops are earthy and rich in umami despite being simply poached. The seafood courses are, on second thought, all brilliant. The cured red mullet and the halibut with morels serve as antipodal options – raw and fresh the former, cooked and intense the latter – but they both display the characteristics of an accomplished dish rather than a “test”. The test element, in fact, is more the format of the restaurant, and seeing where it could go. Do not expect a chef recklessly experimenting with your taste buds, everything in the menu is as good as in a standard michelin-starred business. They just aim at being less dogmatic and more creative.
The meat part of the meal is where you’ll encounter the richer but also more traditional combinations. The Quail, English Asparagus, Sunflower Seeds, Lardo borders on perfection, the lard and the quail melting in the mouth. If there’s a problem with this dish it is that it should be a bit bigger. Other than that, it shouldn’t me touched.
Veal sweetbread with broccoli and girolles; lamb with salsify and king oyster; pheasant egg with girolles and truffle. The pairing meat (or derivate)-mushroom is a constant. The care with which the main ingredient is treated, though, assures that all the flavours are very different and each course is worth a try.
The desserts will be bit a challenging for some. It’s clear the pastry chef doesn’t have a sweet tooth: Charentais melon comes with a saffron shortrbread and black olives; Garigette strawberries with red peppers and basil seeds; raspberry with wasabi and buttermilk. Comfort, however, can be found in the Milk Chocolate Mousse, Whisky, Finger Limes.
The Test Kitchen offers a good selection of cocktails and wines, with nearly half of the bottles available by the glass. It also observes my personal golden rule that every respectable restaurant should have a glass of champagne available for £10 or less: here it’s at £9.50. Adam Simmonds’s long pop-up is a breath of fresh air for the fine-dining scene of Soho.★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at The Test Kitchen by Adam Simmonds, 54 Frith Street London W1D 4SL, call 020 7734 8487 or visit their website here.