There’s something about restaurants where the owners are there in the thick of the action, and co-proprietors Nick Gilkinson (previously Anglo) and chef Chris Shaw (ex-Petersham Nurseries & BAO) certainly don’t shirk their shifts at Townsend. The payoff is personal and personable service with that bend-over-backwards attitude which makes you feel like no request would be too much trouble.
As is de rigueur, the menu is staunchly seasonal, but steers clear of pretention. It’s the type of place where soft butter comes swiped across the plate and where in-house pickles seem to be in constant supply. At £32 for four courses, the evening menu is a steal and if you don’t fancy the full line-up you’re welcome to try some of the dishes from it on an a la carte basis, within reason.
Scones have been given a ritzy makeover, served warm and topped generously with smoked mackerel, pickled red onion and horseradish. Hot, molten cheese croquettes are covered in more cheese – an ideal scenario – and pork rillettes are silky smooth with creamy fat and served with, you guessed it, house pickles.
The real sorcery comes with mains in a plate of celeriac. Sounds boring except it is anything but. It’s shaved in paper-thin rounds, tossed in a light dressing, and topped with cheese, truffle and hazelnuts. It’s comfortingly creamy without becoming cloying and it manages to transform what’s billed as a side dish into the star of the show. It’s clever, contemporary handling of veg which we come to learn is par for the course (if you'll pardon the pun) from Chris Shaw.
If we’re going to talk about the true hero dish though, it’s the beignets – do not leave without trying them. They’re hot and fluffy and dusted in fig leaf sugar and served with a bowl of fruit and cold custard for dipping. It’s Willy Wonka like and the best excuse for greedily stuffing things into your mouth with your hands like a child.
Dishes throughout are carefully matched with British wines, and in the low hum of the pared-back dining room it’s easy to find yourself sat in the same spot hours later feeling fully relaxed and restored.