Editor's note: The Devonshire duly folded in February 2012.
Some restaurant sites are just difficult. For no obvious reason the site at 164 Sloane Street did for Alain Ducasse, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay (even with talented chef Bjorn van der Horst at the helm), and Ian Pengelley, a group of seriously successful restaurateurs. Opening a restaurant on that site was like moving to a house built on an Indian burial ground in a Hollywood movie. Although not in that league, The Devonshire pub site in Chiswick saw off Gordon Ramsay in quick time, and so it must be with some trepidation that Nick Gibson (of the Drapers Arms in Islington) took taken the place over and re-launched it on the 4th July 2011. T he site is awkward because it is cut off on one side by the M4, and is just far enough from the Chiswick High Road to get limited passing trade. Anyway, enough of the history, what is the new incarnation like?
The décor has been spruced up, this time with dark green rather than dark brown walls, with wood floor and café chairs, a casual place with no tablecloths; there was a small beer garden at the back. The current chef (Dave Philpot) has worked in the past as senior sous chef at the Ivy and with Caprice Holdings and was head chef of Soho House in New York, though most recently he was cooking at a pub called The Lazy Cow in Warwickshire.
The menu is British but with some unusual touches, as we shall see. The wine list started at £15.50 with plenty of wines under £30. Examples included Rioja Urbina Crianza 2004 priced at £29 for a wine that retails at £9, Sherwood Berriman Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc at £36 for a wine that you can pick up in the shops for about £15, and Mikulski Mersault 2007 at £65 for a wine that will set you back £32 retail. We drank the pleasant High Note 2008 Pinot Noir at £49 compared to a retail price of £24.
Bread is from Sally Clarke’s bakery, but was a single choice of fruit and nut bread, which would work fine with cheese but seemed an odd choice for savoury dishes. My starter of smoked eel salad (£6.50) was pleasant, served with potatoes, bacon and quail eggs, the eel rather lacking in taste but the other components entirely competent (12/20). This was much better than scallops, fennel and piccalilli (£8.50). To me this was a flawed idea: I like scallops, I like fennel and I like piccalilli, but as a combination they do not work at all. The piccalilli, served on a hot plate, had warmed up, and its strong taste completely crushed the sweet and delicate taste of the scallops, while the earthy taste of fennel was also lost in the spiciness of the piccalilli (10/20).
My duck with gratin dauphinoise (£13.50) arrived and was sent straight back without a bite (5/20), since the duck was a miserable grey colour rather than the pink that it should be; no chef worth the name should ever have let this leave his kitchen. When the dish was re-made it was at least pink, and was merely a cheap piece of duck but at least it was properly cooked. Gratin dauphinoise had reasonable texture but was oddly lacking in flavour; where was the garlic, the seasoning, the cheese flavour from the gratin? Pickled cherry jus was a valid idea, providing acidity, but needed better duck.
Better was a whole mackerel (£11.50), served on the bone with broad bean relish, pea shoots and lemon salad. The fish itself was cooked acceptably, the broad beans had been podded, and the salad leaves were fine (12/20). On the side, chips (£2/50) were truly dismal: limp and soggy (even the colour of the chips was pale and unappealing), and came back the same way at a second attempt (4/20). These were really, really bad chips.
For dessert, chocolate fondant (£6.50) had a liquid centre but rather leathery outside, served with griottine cherries that tasted as if they came from a jar, served with vanilla ice cream with no visible vanilla flecks in a rock-hard tuile (maybe 11/20 at best based on the chocolate). Lemon posset (£6.50), a potentially lovely English dessert, had decent texture though this one was a little over-acidic, and was topped with unnecessary and stringy blackberries, though with a decent shortbread biscuit on the side (12/20).
The bill came to £48 per head, with one of the better wines, but with one main course not charged for. Service was of the “who ordered what?” variety, though it was friendly enough. Overall I’m afraid this was just a bad meal. Although arithmetically it probably averages to 11/20 overall, this greatly overstates matters, as there were some truly dire elements in this meal, such as the grey duck (to be fair, we were not charged for this) and the dismal chips. Gordon Ramsay failed on this site with an entirely competent, if rather overpriced offering, so it is really hard to see this place flourishing unless they revamp the kitchen in a fundamental way. I am keen to support restaurants local to me, but although this is within easy walking distance of my house it is not somewhere to which I would return.