From Petersham to Wanstead

Saturday, January 18th , 2014

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Rextail serves steak and assorted British dishes, the latest Mayfair opening of Arkady Novikov. It is quite smart, with its red banquettes and open kitchen, but the food and service were distinctly erratic when I visited. The best dish was a simple but well-made classical pasta starter, in a portion size sufficient for a family. Unfortunately a rather flawed wagyu burger and a leathery soufflé let the side down. The staff were well-meaning but somewhat disorganised, and at these prices everything should be working smoothly, especially given that it is into its third month of operation.

Source is the restaurant that has taken over from long-time Battersea local Ransomes Dock. The décor is fine and the staff friendly as our meal rushed by at a startling pace, but our dinner was tarnished by too many errors, from overcooked venison through to a rather tasteless ragu. This was a pity because a crab starter and a blood orange sorbet were quite good, but all rather ambitiously priced for what appeared on the plate.

The Dysart was one of my favourite discoveries of 2013, an old pub near Richmond with a Roux scholar behind the stoves and an emphasis on high quality produce, including many vegetables grown in their own garden. I have eaten several genuinely good meals there now, and its excellent food is matched by a generously priced wine list and friendly staff. The chef has a real knack with fish dishes, as shown by a lovely dish of precisely cooked salmon resting in a Japanese style stock that I ate at this latest visit.

In the 1990s I had many happy meals at the restaurants of the Renzland twins in west London, but their places sadly closed for different reasons. Max Renzland has now resurfaced as a restaurateur at the opposite end of London, in Wanstead. This is an unlikely location for a restaurant, and certainly when I lived in nearby Leytonstone in the 1980s that part of London was not exactly bursting with dining opportunities beyond fish and chips and kebabs. Fortunately Mr Renzland has not lost his touch, and Provender has the same intensely Gallic feel as his previous restaurants. The food is simple but hearty, the ingredients well-sourced, the welcome friendly. As a bonus for wine lovers, the small fine wine list has some genuine bargains tucked away at the high end. This would be a lovely restaurant to have in any neighbourhood – in Wanstead it is a culinary miracle. 

In other news, Tom Aikens is to close his flagship Chelsea restaurant at the end of January after a decade. He has several Tom’s Kitchen venues to focus on, and it seems as if the fine dining restaurant may be relocated at some point to central London, possibly under a new name. Aikens is one of the capital’s most talented chefs; he has often been shrouded in controversy of one sort or another, but no one ever doubts that he can cook. I hope he does not give up entirely on ambitious dining – London needs chefs with this level of ability to be cooking top-notch food, not just making money with mid-range brasseries.