To Gail's Kitchen, which is the restaurant offshoot of Gail's Artisan Bakery, a 16-strong chain across London. For a carb lover like me, going to Gail's on the way to work for a coffee and pastry is like Shane MacGowan popping into the pub for a swift half – we're lucky if we emerge still conscious (in my case, as a result of slipping into a sugar coma, thanks to the lemon drizzle cakes, the Soho buns, the almond Danishes and the chocolate-smothered loaf cakes).
So – putting to one side my inherent hatred of the word "artisan" – I'm well-disposed towards Gail's (btw, Gail isn't a homely, floury-armed lady; it's run by two businessmen). A restaurant with the same approach of abundance and imagination sounds like my kind of place. I take my friend Deborah Ross, who writes about famous people and television. She's sharp-witted and has the attention span of a gnat, so I know that if I should just binge on the breadbasket and fail to notice anything else, Debs will.
Things start inauspiciously. Neither of us realise that Gail's Kitchen is, in fact, in the lobby of a hotel. We have to go past reception and the groups milling about with suitcases, to a partially screened area that is the restaurant. It all feels a bit transient.
Never mind, we are shown to a very nice table by the front window, and have the concept explained to us. Our shoulders droop: not a concept, not here. What about a lovely big pie, or a plate of tasty, busy salad and lots and lots of lovely bread? As Debs says, "I like one big plate and knowing IT IS MINE!"
Well, yes. I'm on board with the sharing-plate thing for a pit-stop kind of meal: the Polpo places in central London are terrific for a flying lunch and glass of wine, but we want a leisurely supper. The banging soundtrack and tiny table add to our anxiety. And I know that Debs is not good at sharing at the best of times…
There then follows a tussle – first between me and my guest, for the inevitable last bit of each dish (which only proves my belief that one can only share with someone you don't mind offending, or to whom you can reveal your pure greed). Then a tussle between the pair of us and our waiter, who's living right on the edge of being infuriating. No sooner have we paused than he comes to check whether we're OK, and whether we've finished with a dish. "No," we chorus. We want that last bit of sea bass/burrata/porchetta.
He's doing it, of course, because the table is not big enough to hold the dishes. Which is a problem. The kitchen might send out the array we've chosen when it feels like it, but I might not want to eat them in that order and, having accepted the multi-dish deal, not one after another but as a pick-at melange. Leave those plates alone.
The food itself is delightful. A special of sea bass carpaccio is heavy with fragrant olive oil, and shaved roast beef with lashings of mustard butter and radishes has that pleasing nose-tickle effect. The burrata doesn't need roasted sweet potato, really, but a raisin relish is a lovely touch, adding a sweet sharpness to the creamy cheese. But best of all, says Debs, is a round lettuce salad with blood orange and Stewley cheese. "Fresh, zingy, interesting – although I also liked the cheese that looked like a testicle." Thanks Debs. (By her own admission, she's guzzled a carafe of Fico Grande Sangiovese by now from the rather good wine list).
We also have three slices of sticky chicken served with roasted garlic purée, baked carrots and almonds, and a thick slab – too thick, I think – of porchetta with broccoli, broad beans and barley. They are both accomplished dishes that suggest the bakers and the bread ovens are being put to good use in the evenings, too.
So why do I not love Gail's Kitchen? Breaking bread is about sharing, after all. But I'm more keen on food served "family style" I think, an abundant approach which is done so well in a few places and getting more popular – from the bonkers Beast to the charming Quality Chop House.
So in short, a shorter menu and bigger plates, please, which might also help with a bill that shoots skyward without much effort. But as for the bakeries… don't go changing.
Gail's Kitchen, 11-13 Bayley Street, WC1 tel: 020 7323 9694 £90 for two, with wine
Four more foodie notes from the past week
I don't have one, but this asparagus trick makes me reconsider. Plate, spears, splash of water and olive oil, salt and pepper, clingfilm. Two minutes on high – perfect!
Too Many Chefs
I love the charity Action Against Hunger, and this fundraiser, with 10 chefs doing a dish each, was staggeringly good, at ace north London pub The Drapers Arms.
Quality Chop House
This delightful restaurant now does butchery classes in the shop next door. Two hours of insights into the cuts we eat, followed by dinner: highly recommended.
A health kick that cuts out sugar means I've been staggered by how much food contains it – come on, M&S, do chicken slices or smoked salmon really need sweetening?Reuse content