Editor's note: in April 2018 Greg Clarke took over as head chef.
108 Garage, which opened in November 2016, is not far from Ladbroke Grove tube, and is a short walk from a pair of well-known Portuguese cafes and the Golborne market. Just down the road you can try a fine custard tart at Lisboa Café and drink coffee with the locals at Oporto. Head chef Chris Denney trained at Hambleton Hall and then worked at a host of top kitchens, including spending a year at Piazza Duomo, recently having been head chef at a restaurant called Four to Eight in Covent Garden. The restaurant is backed by an extremely colourful character called Luca Alessandro Longobardi. A financier married to a former Miss Brazil, he was mistakenly jailed in Brazil for a month after being mistaken for a mafia money launderer, so presumably has some interesting stories to tell.
108 Garage itself has the exposed brick walls, trailing electrical cables and hard floor that is seemingly a requirement of any London restaurant these days. An open kitchen is in one corner, alongside some wine storage. There was a lunch tasting menu at £40, or an a la carte choice. Starters were £9 - £15, main courses £25 - £28 apart from a vegetarian option at £18, and desserts £7 to £8. Bread was extra at £4, and with that you are encouraged to order either taramasalata or chicken liver parfait at a further £4.50, the same price as some olives.
The wine list had 31 bottles, ranging in price from £42 to £180. I’ll let that sink in: the cheapest wine here is £42. Le Gavroche have a bottle at £29, and both Helene Darroze at The Connaught and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, not places noted for their bargain basement wine lists, both currently manage to offer some cheaper wines than the cheapest bottle here. What about markups? The median markup here is 4.6 times retail (never mind wholesale) price. I have only seen one London restaurant (Nobu) with a higher average markup. Example labels were Picpoul de Pinet Famille Morin 2016 at £42 (plus service of course) for a bottle that can be found in a shop for £8, Gavi de Gavi Tenuta Olim Bauda 2015 was £64 compared to its retail price of £13, and Cote Rotie La Sarrasine Domaine de Bonserine 2012 was £180 for a bottle that will set you back £42 in the high street. There was no relief even in the most obscure corners of the list: the Slovenian Barbera Selection Guerila 2014 was five times its retail price. This is a shocking level of pricing, even by the standards of London (editor's note: just after my review was published, some cheaper wines reportedly popped up on the list).
The sourdough bread was very good, as was the chicken liver parfait. This was particularly nice, the texture silky, the liver flavour deep (15/20). My starter was agnolotti (a Piedmontese pasta) with a ragu of lamb brain with fennel and a broth of mustard dashi. The pasta was fine, but the dashi seemed to me a slightly jarring pairing. The pasta rested in the broth, which was the dominant flavour, and the distinctive seaweed and bonito fish flake flavour of the dashi, which works so well as the basis for many Japanese stocks, overpowered the lamb and pasta (12/20).
Halibut was cooked just a touch too long, served with sweetcorn and girolles resting in a sort of broth of parsley oil. The corn was fine, but its sweetness felt like a rather ungainly accompaniment to the fish. More to the point, the girolles had become rather soggy from their contact with the oil. Parsley is a strong flavour, and was the main thing that came through (12/20).
There were four choices for dessert, one of which was cheese, one a chocolate cremeux, and the other two turned out to be either sorbet or ice cream. Service at my meal was functional. I asked the waiter whether it might be possible to swap the ice cream in one dessert for a different ice cream or sorbet – “No”. OK then; according to the waiter this would offend the chef. I tried the Black Bomb cheese with pickled kohlrabi with malt bread, which was harmless enough. If anything the pickling juices would have been more effective as a foil for the cheese if they had provided greater astringency than they did (11/20).
The bill, with no pre-lunch drink, water to drink and no coffee, came to £63.56 for one person. If you shared a modestly priced bottle of wine (good luck with finding one here) then a typical cost per person with bread and coffee might be about £88. This seems to me a great deal of money for the level of food that is appearing. The average score is bolstered by the excellent bread and chicken liver parfait, but things have probably not worked out that well when the element of the meal that you most enjoy is the bread.