The Malt House is a Fulham pub now taken over by Claude Bosi of Hibiscus. The décor is simple but pleasant, with cream walls and turquoise banquette seating, wooden floor and no tablecloths. The head chef is Marcus McGuinness, formerly head chef of Hibiscus, who had worked at Hibiscus when it was in Ludlow, and before that at Champignon Sauvage and 5 North Street. They have provided free wi-fi for diners, a nice touch.
The wine list had around 50 selections, ranging in price from £19 to £180, with a median price of £42 and an average mark-up of 2.7 times the retail price, which is reasonably moderate by London standards. Example wines included Signal Cannon Chenin Blanc 2011 at £23 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £8, Côtes du Rosa from Joseph Swan 2008 at £54 for a wine that retails at around £18, up to a few grander choices such as Margaux Château Giscours 1995 at £120 for a wine that will set you back about £73 in a shop. Mineral water was £3.60 a bottle. Bread was bought in from Boulangerie de Paris but priced extra at £4 a portion.
The menu was quite short, and limited if you were not carnivorous: just one fish main course was offered, and one vegetarian choice. Starters were £6.50 to £9, main courses £12.50 to £18, with side dishes at £4 and desserts £7 to £8. Hummus with rye bread crisps was made from scratch, the hummus pleasant but the bread very hard indeed (1/10). Much better was a pressed chicken terrine with sourdough toast. The terrine was served warm, garnished with mango and curried mayonnaise. The chicken (Label Anglais) had reasonable flavour, and the mango gave some pleasant balancing acidity to the dish, the hint of curry lifting the flavour (4/10).
A burger (£14.50) used 40-day aged Cumbrian beef, cooked to order - medium rare in this case – and served with triple cooked chips. The beef supplier (HG Walter) is the same as at Hibiscus, and this showed in the good flavour of the patty, though the bun was rather soft and became a little soggy. Still, the crisp lettuce with the burger and the pickles were fine, and this was certainly a good quality burger (3/10). Vegetable side dishes varied: good potatoes, but carrots that were cooked a bit long, and slightly over-salted and again marginally overcooked cabbage (2/10). Chocolate delice was made using good chocolate, and quite good texture (3/10). A trio of English cheeses was fine, served with particularly nice chutney of onion, pepper and tomato, that apparently was made by the mother of the chef. Coffee was Nespresso.
Service was friendly, with an assistant manageress who used to work at La Trompette, but our waiter asked us “who ordered what?”, a fairly basic service skill that even some high street chains manage, so surely can be achieved here. Doubtless this can be addressed in time. The bill came to £71 a head, albeit with a good bottle of wine. If you had a more moderate bottle of wine between two then three courses with vegetables and coffee would set you back getting on for £60 a head. This is scarcely cheap for a pub, though clearly the quality of ingredients here is higher than a typical public house. For me the Malt House is neither fish nor fowl: it is not delivering the high end (but still recognisably pub) food served by the nearby Harwood Arms, yet is rather fancy and expensive for a neighbourhood boozer. Bread priced at £4 and dishes like blood orange and thyme polenta cake are hardly regular pub neither fare nor pub prices. The cooking is certainly of a higher standard than most public houses, but there were minor slips this evening, and I feel this is a place that may need a little while to find its feet and decide who its audience really is.