29 May 2011
I’m a local of Fulham and do my utmost to support its cause (but not its football clubs). From picking my fruit and veg at North End Road market to drinking my coffee in BonBon Delicatessen. I fully support the pubs and bars, and as such give generously to the cause. Local taxi drivers are great admirers of mine, often picking me up from tube stations or X destination and dropping me at my front door. Restaurants are also well supported, for it is perhaps my only habit to eat out. Born out of laziness and the refusal to home-cook (listen up girls, I’m appearing as quite the catch), I’m fortunate enough to boast an area so well scattered with fine dining that you could easily fill several months with exquisite meals.
To begin there’s Marco by Marco Pierre White, El Metro, Joe’s Brasserie, The Broadway Bar & Grill, Locale Fulham, Yi-Bn, Zimzun, Mandaloun, Blue Elephant, Chutney Mary and not forgetting those ballsy gastro-pubs, The Sand’s End (winner National Gastropub of the Year 2008), The White Horse, and the Michelin-starred Harwood Arms.
Eamon Manson, after the success of The Sand’s End, opened Manson in proud fashion bearing his name. For a short time it was called Balthazar, the name change is due to Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings Ltd. having registered as a trademark in the UK the name of Keith McNally’s New York restaurant. So a name change was required.
Manson doesn’t bring the most alluring imagery to mind but rather conjures up Marilyn Manson, a name itself that juxtaposes two 1960′s American cultural icons, namely actress Marilyn Monroe and convicted multiple murderer Charles Manson. Why not simply name a restaurant The Alluring Dinner or Major Munch? “I’ve booked Sunday lunch at The Plump Partridge, dear.” Or, “Where should we take mother for her birthday? The Dripping Steak or Caviar Cave?” Manson just seems a little, well, enraged to hang above the door. But then all presumptions are washed away by a welcoming smile and newfangled-rustic setting.
Chef Gemma Tuley has been picked to run the kitchen, and with previous experience at Guy Savoy in Paris and Claridges in London, is well placed to create dishes demonstrating her talent. There was a brief stint under Gordon Ramsey at the failed Foxtrot Oscar where Tuley was heralded as “a Ramsay protégée”, but we skim past that and anyone who dined at Floptrop Oscar will fully understand why.
Here, Tuley is able to express herself with free range to be creative. This is reflected in dishes such as Jerusalem artichoke cheesecake with peanut butter, something critics have expressed mixed emotions about. Zoe Williams in The Telegraph called it “Incredible from top to bottom: the crunchy biscuit base was profoundly delicious, as if Tuley had reinvented not just the cheesecake genre but also the digestive biscuit, ” while Fay Maschler in The Evening Standard said “None of us could face the seemingly mad Jerusalem artichoke cheesecake with peanut butter.” Fortunately for me – or unfortunately, depending on your opinion of the juxtaposing artichoke and cheesecake mix – it was not on the menu during my visit. Perhaps we’ve seen the last of this notorious conception?
The rest of the menu is imaginative, glowing with the likes of neo-rustic brasserie classics such as beef and lamb mains and stylish starters of ballottine of foie gras with apricot purée. My introductory dish was a pilled Jenga of crispy beef tongue. An ingredient so popular it dates back to the days of Palaeolithic hunters. The warm and crunchy breadcrumbs coated the meat nicely and then tongue-to-tongue (human to beast) we wrapped our muscular hydrostats and French-kissed on the way down. This was followed by an amuse-bouche of sushi-style red mullet (I think?) with a beetroot domed Russian salad served on a black slate. The beet salad was stony cold which helped lift its flavour by highlighting the sweetness of the beetroot, while the fish was cool and fresh and silky smooth.
I followed this with a delicious roast partridge served with a belly-warming bread sauce. Any veg sides were extra so I skipped the healthy bit. The plump bird was served beautifully and represented good old British grub on a cold winter evening, easily rivalling my favourite partridge of the season at Dean Street Townhouse. I returned a few weeks later and ordered the haddock with baby clams and this was again a fine course, with a buttered and crispy skin, roofing wonderful flakes of fresh and intense haddock.
My guest (an Australian) was looking for something traditional with that Brit-rusticity, and digged into a fist-sized cut of pork with quality scrathings, and served with buttered Jerusalem Kings (that’s posh Fulham speak for ‘cabbage’) and a sausage stuffing. It was glowing and fabulous – the meat as big as a boxer’s fist.
My second visit proving that Gemma Tuley is not only consistent but in my opinion one of the finest young chefs chopping, tossing, baking, frying, barbecuing, braising, roasting and poaching in the country. And to top it all, service is knowledgeable and charming – in that Fulham kinda way – with Paul Smith shirts and Converse trainers and a thorough understanding of the breadth of the menu and wine list, from which we ordered a startlingly purple 2008 Pinot Noir -ideal for game and fish.
Desserts are kept to a minimum without being overdone and lengthy. There’s an impressive cheeseboard for your pix ‘n’ mix choices and a wonderful blood orange crème brulée with shortbread base that screws the face with zingy sourness before a wave of delight. It was both sweet and sour and always fun to break the burnt sugar shell. The highlight however was a warm and springy carrot cake, beautifully presented on (another) black piece of slate. Soft and moist to put your spoon through it was served with a sweet carrot puree and vanilla ice-cream, as well as what I’d describe as sugared walnuts, although I can’t be sure – we were on our second bottle by now.
Manson certainly ticks the boxes. The cooking is fun and expressive while fusing French masterstrokes with some British favourites. It’s all reasonably priced, the new-fangled room large enough to create junketing laughter and merriment, even during the ‘crunch’ and the impending bite of winter, and most importantly (although probably not for you?), I can walk home afterwards.