Few restaurants can boast as impressive a setting as Dock Kitchen. Overlooking the Grand Union Canal, in a smartly restored Victorian wharf, globetrotting chef Stevie Parle's Ladbroke Grove base doubles as a showroom for furniture and lighting designer Tom Dixon, whose studio is downstairs. Restaurant/showroom hybrids might be nothing new - Chair in Westbourne Grove (chairs, obvs) and Firevault in Marylebone (designer fireplaces, believe it or not), both now closed, got there first - but nowhere does it with quite such urbane modernity as here.
Parle has made a name for himself travelling the world, researching and discovering regional techniques and ingredients - nice work if you can get it - and parlaying that into a number of popular books (on sale in the restaurant, natch) and TV series. It was watching the most recent of these, Spice Trip, which led my pal Ian to suggest that we give Dock Kitchen a whirl, his appetite whetted and interest piqued by Stevie's televised adventures. We took mutual friend Anders along on the itself not-insubstantial trek to W10.
Dock Kitchen offers two options at dinner, a set menu changing every ten days or so which showcases a particular region (Old Delhi on the night we visited) and a la carte; we chose the latter. Like Stevie Parle himself the menu roams from country to country, name-checking an unusual spice here, a less-than-familiar vegetable there. If it weren't for the likelihood that, like Ian, most diners will be fans of the chef's programmes and thus know their labneh from their lavash, it could seem wilfully opaque. Instead it reads excitingly and although fairly concise at six choices for each course, is hard to choose the most appealing dishes from.
A pre-starter nibble of tempura sage leaves, drizzled in honey and sprinkled with chilli flakes, were fiendishly moreish, as was a basket of lavash, an unleavened flatbread served hot and charred from the grill. There was more of it with my starter, lusciously fat and bloody chicken livers cooked in seven spice and pomegranate molasses, which I smooshed onto the bread and wolfed down before, mea culpa, the boys could have even a taste.
Ian's starter, listed as 'A piece of Iberico secreto' (a piece of menu writing I found rather affected) was a good tender slice of this pinkest of porks, its delicacy not overwhelmed by grilled leek and pleasantly smoky if rather wet romesco sauce. Anders' cotechino sausage, served as is traditional in some parts of Italy on New Year's Eve - despite it being late January in London - on a bed of lentils, had enough peppery savour to not really need its accompanying mustard fruits and dragoncello sauce. Dragoncello, incidentally, is tarragon; why it wasn't just called that here escapes me.
I won't reproduce the exhaustingly-long twenty-word name of Anders' main course in full, but it was, essentially, a Sri Lankan thali. A very good one, too, albeit one with an occasional whack of such intense heat as to make Anders' eyelids snap back in his head. Ian and I shared lamb biryani (available only for two people or more), cooked in a clay pot sealed with dough to keep moisture and its wonderful aromas in. It was a superb dish, the lamb flakingly tender and so beautifully spiced as to prove without doubt that Stevie knows his stuff. We liked too that it came with dishes of rose petals, almonds and coriander to mix in to taste, bringing a little variety to each mouthful.
Desserts were pleasant enough if not in the same league as the more complex savoury courses. Ian's pistachio and nutmeg cake with saffron yoghurt was good as cakes go but nothing to get too excited about, and my Seville orange tart, while refreshing after the biryani, was rather too sharp. A pot of poky smoked Sri Lanka tea took the sourness away most agreeably.
The boys' ordering of wine by the glass (still on the wagon, I stuck to the excellent home-made lemonade) pushed our bill including service up to about £53 a head, steep but about the norm for food of this quality and into which clearly a lot of thought and love, not to mention considered sourcing, had gone. Only the biryani, while admittedly splendid, felt over-priced at £35 for two. Service, from a hipsterish brigade of jeans-clad boys and girls, was impeccable.
You enter and leave Dock Kitchen through a mini-grocery store where many of the ingredients championed by Stevie Parle in his programmes and books - as well as the books themselves - are on sale. This rather sums the place up; more than just a restaurant, Dock Kitchen is the shop-window for a clearly very talented cook who, less ostentatiously but no less surely than Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay before him, is fast becoming a one-man industry. And good luck to him with it I say; when food's as exciting and enjoyable as this, the person responsible for it deserves to be shown off.
Dock Kitchen, Portobello Dock, 342/344 Ladbroke Grove, London W10 5BU Tel: 020 8962 1610 http://www.dockkitchen.co.uk
Posted by +Hugh Wright