The Cross Keys is the oldest pub in Chelsea, dating back to 1708. Over the years it has attracted some famous customers, from the artists Turner and Whistler through to the more recent musical artists Bob Marley and Mick Jagger. The pub nearly closed for good in 2012 when its owner applied for permission to turn it into a luxury house, but the premises was saved after a vociferous campaign by local residents. It reopened in March 2015.
The menu was appealing and a little more adventurous than one might expect for a local pub. The executive chef is Oliver Marlowe, who worked at Chez Bruce and The Glasshouse before becoming head chef of Sands End. The head chef here, and the person actually cooking tonight, was Natasha Cooke, who previously was a sous chef at Medlar and also worked at The Glasshouse and Sands End. Starters were £7 to £10.50, mains £13.50 to £29.50, side dishes £3.50 to £4.50 and desserts £6.50 to £8. The dining room was crowded and noise levels were high, with tables packed close together.
The two page wine list ranged from £19 to £85, with bottles such as Bolfan Prius Riesling at £28.50 for a label that can be found in the high street for £7, Gilles Robin Papillon Crozes Hermitage Rouge 2013 at £39 compared to a shop price of £17 and Grand Puy Lacoste 2007 at £74 for a wine that retails at £37.
Focaccia was apparently made in the kitchen and had very good texture, with a bold application of salt (14/20). Cauliflower tempura came with raisin raita, watercress and curried quail eggs. The batter would not pass muster in a Tokyo tempura restaurant but was crisp and light enough, and the gentle spicing worked well with the yoghurt of the raita (13/20). Lobster and scallop raviolo rested in shellfish bisque and was flavoured with basil. This was not a visually appealing dish, an orange blob like a garish flying saucer, but the shellfish flavour was good, the pasta a tiny bit harder than ideal but still pleasant (13/20).
Sea bass came with gnocchi, new potatoes, spring vegetables and wild garlic. The fish was cooked accurately and the vegetables were also nicely prepared, the garlic adding a seasonal note (13/20). Duck was glazed with miso and came with crispy gyozas, bak choy and cherries. The meat was cooked pink but was not as tender as it might have been, while the bak choi was cooked a fraction long (12/20).
Home-made vanilla yoghurt with rhubarb and ginger compote had rhubarb that would have been better cut into much smaller pieces but had good flavour, with a pleasant hint of ginger coming through (13/20). Lemon curd ice cream with lemon sorbet, meringue and pomegranate seeds was light and refreshing. The pomegranate seemed a little pointless to me, not adding much in the way of flavour, but the meringue had good texture and there was a nicely judged amount of lemon (13/20).
Service was good on this busy night, with a friendly Canadian waitress. The bill came to £73 a head including the very enjoyable Meerlust Rubicon 2008. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a realistic cost per person would be around £65. Overall The Cross Keys delivered a very pleasant meal in a relaxed if noisy setting.