Wormwood is a herbal ingredient in absinthe, and was once used as a spice in mead in the Middle Ages. However in this context it is the name of a restaurant in Notting Hill. The menu here is Mediterranean, with the fashionable “shared plates” format so beloved of London restaurateurs due to the deceptively low prices that actually result in a non-trivial bill. Rabah Ourrad is the head chef, having previously worked at Sketch for two years from 2009, followed by a brief stint at The Ledbury, then a spell at Momo, before opening Wormwood in July 2014. He had worked prior to this in Paris and Barcelona. The restaurant is in a parade of shops and has a casual feel to it, with a bar to one side and a pleasant area at the back with a skylight allowing in plenty of natural light.
The wine list had around 50 bottles, ranging in price from £25 to £149, with a median price of £49. The mark-up level was quite high even by the demanding standards of London, with wines averaging 3.3 times their retail price. The growers chosen were unusual, and the list shows some thought, with labels from around the Mediterranean including examples from Greece and Morocco, and a particularly good Moscato d’Asti grower (Spinetta). Examples were Volubilia Gris Domaine de la Zouina, Mekne 2013 at £30 for a wine that can be found in the high street for £10, Aidani, Hatzidakis Vineyard 2013 at £54 for a bottle that retails at £19, and the lovely Château Musar Gaston Hochar 1999 at an excessive £92 for a wine that can be found in a shop for £28.
Bread was a choice of two selections bought-in from Boulangerie de Paris and one made from scratch in the form of a saffron brioche. The latter was the best, though the Boulangerie de Paris sourdough was also excellent (easily 14/20). A free nibble was offered before the dishes arrived: a little jar containing orange and limoncello gel, topped with lobster bavarois with red pepper purée, then a layer of olive crumb with olive oil and coriander. This worked well, although the slightly metallic taste of the red pepper was not the most obvious pairing for the lobster (13/20).
Tomato vanilla jelly came with tomato granite and raspberries. This was a curious combination of flavours, and although the tomatoes were good the vanilla flavour was too strong for the rest of the dish (12/20). Squid croquettes came with confit garlic mayonnaise and smoked paprika, with a few tender prices of squid on the side. This was a more logical ingredient pairing, and worked well (13/20).
Wild sea bass and cauliflower came with a ravioli with agar and coconut, plus a little beetroot. I liked the cauliflower in particular, and the sea bass was properly cooked (13/20). Cod brandade had pan-fried cod, lemon confit and an espuma with Parmesan and potato. This avoided over-saltiness, and the lemon flavour worked well (13/20).
Risotto of girolles was the only duff dish that we tried. Either vinegar had been added or something had gone awry with the red wine reduction, but the resulting stock was far too sharp (10/20). Pulled pork was the dish of the night, topped with spinach; simple but carefully seasoned and delicious (14/20).
Daikon and champagne sorbet with citrus powder and absinthe foam was once strictly for lovers of absinthe, which I am not. One dessert featured lemon in numerous ways: cream, sorbet, foam, meringue and zest. The meringue was a touch soggy but the other elements were good, and there seemed to be a touch of salt, which was unexpected but not unpleasant (13/20).
A clementine dessert had orange blossom and clementine flavoured marshmallow, dark chocolate, confit clementine, clementine parfait, clementine crisp and a dark chocolate cigar, with a clementine liquor on the side. The fruit itself was very good, and the pairing with the chocolate logical (14/20). Coffee was from a place called Coffee Central, and I found it to be pretty unpleasant. There is quite good coffee to be found in London these days, so it would be nice if they could choose one. This came with rosemary salted chocolate, rosemary marshmallow and rosemary shortbread.
Service was excellent, our Welsh waitress very switched on and friendly, the manager (who had worked at The Ledbury) also good. The bill came to £69 a head with a decent bottle of wine between us, plus two additional glasses. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill would come to about £60 a head all in. The cooking at Wormwood is quite technical and involves a fair bit of skill, though at times seems to be trying a bit to hard to show off chef technique at the expense of diner pleasure. Dishes are inventive and the atmosphere is relaxed.