Rebecca Anne Milford tracks down the best places to eat in London, and is guided in the art of wine and food pairing by the experts at Antidote.
In three words: Intimate, Imaginative, Assured,
Wandering past the cluster of buildings on Newburgh Street, you could be forgiven for assuming Antidote was another attractive artisan-coffee shop-meets-wine-bar; it has the typical sense of cosmopolitan style, due to the al-fresco tables and a sleek blonde wood interior. It seems like a bright, breezy place to grab a cup of Joe or a glass of something chilled. But who could guess upstairs is a compact and chic restaurant serving up seriously good Modern European cuisine?
But it’s true – ascend the steps, take a seat at one of the contemporary-elegant tables, and prepare to be excited by the menu from Head Chef, Michael Hazelwood, who is running the kitchen under the guidance of Mikael Jonsson (Chef Patron of Michelin starred restaurant Hedone, don’t you know).
And let’s not forget the equally important issue – the wine. Antidote has a huge selection and aims to match the perfect glass with your food, as well as provide and educate diners on little known tipples that are organic and biodynamic. Inventive food and exciting wines? This makes for the prospect of a very enjoyable afternoon.
Location: Just near Carnaby Street, off a narrow little walkway that escapes the ludicrous hustle and bustle of the city.
The Occasion: Antidote struck me as the perfect place to surprise a date – there’s a sense of winking, in-the-know secrecy that makes you feel like a special guest at a supper club. Any wine fans will adore it here – the menu is eye-poppingly varied. It also ticks boxes for those that love seasonal dishes presented in gorgeous fashion – get ready to hashtag #FoodPorn.
Decor: Downstairs is light, bright and airy. Upstairs is a little more elegant, although still lovely and relaxed. Black, white and pale stone grey walls give a modern but crisp atmosphere, accentuated by the odd piece of bright modern art, and the wooden floorboards give it a touch of the rustic French bistro. Being on a higher floor has advantages – the bobbing heads of flowers in their window boxes add a splash of gorgeous red.
Atmosphere: Chilled out dining combined with convivial charm. When we arrived on Tuesday lunchtime many of the tables were full, and there was the burble and chatter of happy diners in the air. The staff is a mix of professional and cordial, and we imagine that, when the room is bustling on a busy evening, there is a really festive atmosphere.
Menu Concept: Freshness is the name of the game here –the menu is altered daily, and changes according to what the chef decides should be the star ingredients. And of course each dish can be paired with a rather delicious wine.
What We Ate and Drank:
While it’s usually best to skip past the breadbasket, here it deserves a mention to itself. Antidote also make their own butter – and it’s absolutely sensational. Sunshine yellow, as if freshly churned, it sinks into the thick slices of warm brown bread that has its own addictive chewy texture.
Lunchtimes have a very reasonable set menu (£23 for three courses), with a trio of options for each. For my starter I chose the Monkfish Liver, Roasted Cauliflower, & Seaweed Broth – I’d never had fish liver to my knowledge. The dish itself looked beautiful – dusky pink slices of liver, slightly toasted cauliflower and a splash of green seaweed, all floating in a clear shimmering broth. One sip was a revelation – although thin, it was an incredibly powerful distilled flavour of umami taste that knocked me away. This transpired to work perfectly with the melt-on-the-tongue texture of the monkfish liver and the smokiness of roasted vegetable.
So what grape was paired with this powerhouse of flavours? Well, I needed something dry, fresh and clean, and so our wine guru Guillaume recommended the 2014 Domaine Giachino, “Monfarina” Savoie. He knows his stuff, as it was ideal, cutting through the richness of the broth and adding a lovely zing to the smoothness of the liver.
Next up I had Line Caught Haddock – a snowy white slab of fish resting on cabbage amongst a silky, seaweed butter sauce. It could have been a little too savory and salty for my tastes had it not been for the genius introduction of little gems of pickled radish that lifted the whole dish with their sharp sweetness – I could have eaten a whole bowl of them! The wine with this was 2011 Domaine Ledogar, “Le Blanc”, Corbières – subtle, vaguely sweet and with layers of aromatic herbs. Very, very tasty.
My dining partner went for the Braised Hereford Beef with Chard, Leeks and Celery – another impressive dish, with a real autumnal richness. It was complete comfort food, but the sensible lunchtime portion didn’t leave him too stuffed. And the 2011 Leon Barral, “Jadis”, Faugères wine was another success (well, the glass was emptied fairly quickly, anyway).
For dessert the best thing was the Salted Chocolate, Burnt Honey, Blackcurrants and Yoghurt Meringue. Anyone not a fan of fussy deconstructed puddings will enjoy this – basically a bowl of gooey, sumptuous richness topped with flakes of light meringue. Beads of tart blackcurrant mingled sexily with the chocolate to add a slightly sharper edge to the decadence, and as a fan of port I was delighted to be introduced to NV Vial Magnères, Banyuls Gaby Vial – aged 8 years in oak but with a slightly fresher finish. Consider me a convert.
I adore wine, and love food, so Antidote sounded like my dream dining experience – and it really did live up to expectations. The dishes are assured and confident, with great little touches (those radishes; the blackcurrant), and the wine pairings are spot on. What’s more, it treads the line perfectly between casual cool, and special occasion. As my dining partner put it, ‘almost like fine-dining in your front room.’ You feel immediately comfortable, welcome, and ready to give your stomach over to the expertise of the team. Been suffering from a spell of lackluster meals and poor wine pairings recently? Then this place really is the Antidote.