Shepherd Market is a charming little Mayfair enclave built in the 18th century, originally home to the fifteen-day “May fair” that gave the area its name. It has also been noted for its high-class hookers, and this connection explains the restaurant name. Kitty Fisher was an 18th century courtesan who lived at nearby Carrington Street. She was a celebrity in her time, painted several times by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and she was sought out by Giacomo Casanova when he visited London. Her scandalous life was the subject of numerous pamphlets and newspapers published in Grub Street, the tabloid press centre of the day. Her going rate of ten guineas equates to £1,900 now, so she was clearly familiar with the concept of premium pricing long before London restaurateurs figured out what they could charge for a cup of coffee that costs them about 20p.
Kitty Fisher’s the restaurant opened in December 2014. In the kitchen is Tomos Parry, who previously cooked at Climpson’s Arch in Hackney, and Chris Leach, who used to work at Pitt Cue. There are two dining rooms, one at ground level by the bar, the other downstairs, lined with red banquette seating. A wood-fired grill is the focus of the cooking. Starters were £9 to £10.50 (with olives extra at £4 and bread £3), main courses £18 - £25, side dishes £3.50 and desserts £5 to £6.
The short wine list had just over two dozen labels ranging from £27 to £135, with a median price of £46 and an average mark-up of 3.2 times the retail price, which these days is pretty normal for Mayfair. Sample wines were Bobal Altas Terrias Bodegas Valsangiacomo 2013 at £32 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £12, Urbina Gran Reserva 1996 at £68 compared to a shop price of £20, and Mersault Javillier Tete de Murger 2008 at £135 for a wine that will set you back £47 retail. Hildon water was £4.50.
A starter of beef tartare was the best dish that I tried. The recipe eschewed use of egg, the beef (a mix of Cornish sirloin and Galician dairy cow) had excellent flavour, was nicely seasoned and a few dressed leaves provided some balancing acidity via their dressing (15/20).
Saddleback pork chop came with grilled cabbage, apple and colcannon (mash and cabbage). The pork was reasonable if a touch fatty to my taste, but I liked the slightly charred cabbage leaves, which imparted a smoky note yet were not cooked for too long (13/20).
Blood orange sorbet was very good, topped with a couple of slices of orange and having plenty of citrus flavour (14/20). The coffee was remarkably bitter, and to me had a burnt flavour. The manager (owner?) told me that this (Colombian) coffee was a deliberate choice of style based on his time spent in South America. To me it tasted, as the poet Lord de Talbey put it, as bitter as despair, and was priced at £4 to boot, with no petit fours.
The bill came to £45 with tip but with just water to drink. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person would be around £65. This is acceptable enough given the standard of food, but is largely academic since reservations here are as rare as hen’s teeth. Kitty Fishers has achieved that enviable status of being so hard to book that it is barely worth asking. While I was sitting down, a gentleman next to me enquired about booking for a Friday in May (two months hence) and was greeted by a polite expression that suggested greatly amused indulgence. He might as well have knocked at the gates of the White House and asked whether Barack Obama was free for an impromptu chat. Remarkably, this level of demand has been achieved without use of a PR agency. If you wander along just before noon or around 18:30 there are a few bar stools reserved for walk-ins; otherwise you can just admire the photos of the food here instead while you cool your heels on the waiting list.