‘Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit’ was on my mind as I contentedly drifted into the luxurious land of nod, on Saturday night.
Alas, dear reader, I hadn’t been in an East-End dive-bar having a ‘knees up mother Mary’ with Chas and Dave, I had spent the evening in the unique restaurant Rabbit. Located half-way along the King’s Road, the eatery is an unusual surprise on the saturated treadmill of excellent London restaurants.
There is a quality and diversity of food, like no other, in this glorious mess of cultures we call London; One can find pulled pork street food, French bistros, Michelin stars, and fusion within half a mile of each other. However, I am yet to discover one that fits the same genre as the sui generis Rabbit.
Provenance, ever so important nowadays, courses richly through Rabbit – the brainchild of three brothers who were brought up on a vineyard and farm in West Sussex; one chose farming, one became a chef, and the other went into hospitality – thus creating the marvellous cycle from farm to plate.
The pride in their product is shimmeringly evident and one gets the impression that the victuals have been cared for supremely – though this perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise when the product is their own.
Cooking one’s own farmed food – Mark Hix, Raymond Blanc etc – isn’t innovative enough. However the mouth-watering morsels, a sort of Euro-British tapas, ooze novelty and innovation.
My criteria when assessing a restaurant is always atmosphere, staff, and product. Price should always come as an afterthought.
The staff, who are the rise or ruin of restaurants, are the most important aspect to a customer and here they were, in my humble opinion, excellent. Dressed in rural check shirts, thankfully not matching, each server appeared to have ‘bought in’ to the ethos of the place – or are, like all the best waiters in town, out of work actors!
Their relaxed, but on-point, style of service, backed by their appreciation of the food on offer, created a splendid atmos. The higgldy-piggldy L-shape of the restaurant and its open plan rustic tables made me feel as if I was in a farm house – and I mean that as a compliment! Taxidermy was in situ, but in a calmer manner than the ridiculously over-the-top Jugged Hare, for example.
The atmosphere is relaxed enough to chat convivially with your table but, because of the care of hospitality, one doesn’t take the food as perfunctory.
As the late great Keith Floyd would say “look at the food!” and like the ultimate Bon vivant would have done, I wet the whistle with the ‘daily loosener’ – the house cocktail of the day served in a glass wellington boot. A gin and raspberry concoction that was rather refreshing, with booze kick that Floyd would have appreciated.
The four of us were advised to have eight dishes and few ‘mouthfuls’ – canapé style tit bits. I had confit rabbit on a caraway seed crispbread and a delectable squid ink cracker with a puissant seaweed and chive mayonnaise.
Marvellously, each customer has one plate for the entirety and the sharing dishes come one-by-one and someone plays Mum. The beauty of this system is that it invites conversation and creates a truly communal dining experience.
The wine, from their own vineyard, arrives pleasantly in a carafe and both the white and red are perfectly palatable and reasonably priced.
The dishes come like a beautiful carousel of food – once again the waiters and chefs deserve the upmost praise for the seamless uncomplicated speed at which it is produced.
The vividly dressed plates or bowls of food were packed full of punchy flavours that didn’t overcomplicate in the palate. Amongst others we dined on sweet cured cod with fennel, Rabbit’s house black pudding, which is accompanied by redcurrants and crispy pork skin, beef cigars with tarragon mayonnaise and cranberries, and crisp grilled asparagus served with an unctuous runny egg and soft dices of black pudding.
Particular standouts were the supple pink lamb with wild garlic gnocchi and spinach, mint and oak moss and the scrumptious pan-fried goat’s cheese with walnuts and honey.
Dessert was a revelation for a chap who would normally lean towards cheese and port. Sharing desserts is essentially what people end up doing at the end of the meal, so why not make it more accessible for them? We had three but I remember with particular fondness the sweet crunchy honeycomb wedges, which were worth the admission fee alone.
As we left the restaurant for a cleansing gin at the Chelsea Potter, I noticed that the front bar was full of casual diners rabbiting away with Saturday night smiles, glasses in their hand, and – like out European cousins would – small plates of tapas on their tables.