02 June 2011
The Sands End Public House & Kitchen will always hold a special place for me… at the end of my road. Out the door, turn left and left again. It’s my local bar and restaurant. My escape. My drop-in. My boozer.
Hidden on a quiet residential Fulham road, the low-built, two-storey Sands End caters to the locals: that mix of builder-bar leaners and toff-slumming, pink shirt and chino wearers (I class myself in that catchment area somewhere inbetween the two. I’ve never pulled off making a pink shirt appear ‘cool’). Indeed, AA Gill wrote in his 2008 review of The Sands End, “If it were at the bottom of my street, I’d be jolly pleased”.
Liam Kirwan (previously of Kensington Place, Blueprint Café and The Gun, Canary Wharf) is head chef and promotes “Great British food with an Irish heart”. There isn’t that much evidence of an Irish theme when I last visited however, instead, scotch eggs, English lamb, Scottish whisky and oysters from Mersea in Essex. It’s more British/Irish fusion cooking in a rural gastropub setting, or “Great British food with an Irish elbow”.
We’re squeezed in at 7pm without a reservation and despite the certainty of it being a clearly busy and balmy Friday summer evening, we are not pushed or hassled, and sit comfortably through our three-courses until near 9pm.
Service was snappy and attentive and we were given the daily printed menu. There is one member of staff in particular named James who is most welcoming and kind and has shown this on several of my visits. Once, offering two twenty-minute late desserts (and coffee) on the house, without me even pushing. I choose 1/2 dozen West Mersea oysters (£8.95), which arrive on ice and with a lemon segment and a sweet red onion dressing. They are cool and salty and there’s not much to moan. Truffles had the salmon tartar with avocado salsa, which was steeply priced at £8.50, and had lumpy salmon on top of tiny avocado cuts so cold and hardened, that aggressive fighting would loose you a tooth. It did not sit well on the plate and was disappointing.
The mains read well: roast venison with dauphinoise potatoes and rump of lamb with fondant potato and shallot puree, then there’s mackerel and a delicious sea bream. My field mushroom risotto with shaved Parmesan (£13.00) was a small but thick, offering, sweet, sticky hanging risotto, just as it should be. It tasted rich and creamy and the thick wild mushrooms gave the dish a wild and necessary flavour. Truffle’s fillet of sea bass with creamed parsley mash potato, mange tout and champagne velouté (£16.50) gave me a sudden bout of food envy and on tasting the buttered fish, sent me into Meg Ryan moans of ecstasy. It was smooth like butterscotch and melted effortlessly on the tongue – a triumphant dish. I’ve had the game pie and lamb on previous visits and both are superb.
Friends have told me that the bar snacks are a delight in their own right and the scotch egg (£2.80) tasted delightful, ductile and snug in it’s rounded breadcrumb casing, oozing from its internal. Rock oysters are available at £1.50 each, Welsh rarebit is £4.00 and Sands End crackling (a fashionably named pork scratching I presume) is £3.50.
We enjoyed a light Pinot Noir (Domaine la Colombette 2007, £20.90) from a well-sourced and affordable list where prices start at £14.70 and are marked up with admirable restraint: £20 Beaujolais and a £22 Rioja, all the way up to £65 for Gevrey Chambertin and £79 at the summit for Chateau Rauzan Segla.
Desserts can literally be ‘the icing on the cake’ and are often a deal-breaker. They are good here. A treacle tart with malt ice cream (£5.50) has become one of my favourites (one evening last week I nipped down here and ordered the tart – who wasn’t in so I made do with a dessert. Ahem. Sorry – and a glass of Merlot). The panna cotta (£6.50) is flat though and a little routine, but fine.
Finishing with a double malt whisky (£6.00) – it just seemed right – fired the belly and it’s only a short stagger home anyway.