There’s something slightly depressing about the phrase ‘English tapas’. For me, the idea of ‘tapas’ conjures up visions of glorious Mediterranean sunsets, al fresco dining and big jugs of ruby red sangria. (Yes, yes, I have the imagination of a lobotomised tomato. So sue me.) Anything associated with our own little isle, on the other hand, sets off memories of quivering under a blanket on the patio gnawing on a half-cooked sausage. And drizzle.
The words just don’t go.
I’m pleased to report, however, that the Shed in Notting Hill is doing a bang-up job persuading me otherwise. I’ve been meaning to visit for absolutely ages – to the point that just beforehand I was quite stressed in case it failed to live up to the hype and the evening was spent wallowing in the murky depths of Disappointment Bay – so it came as quite as a relief that it was as marvelous as it was.
Now, the Shed is all about nose-to-tail, ground-to-gob cuisine almost entirely sourced from its own farm in Sussex. Founded by the Gladwin Brothers, a toothy pair usually photographed holding aloft a tangle of skinned rabbits by the ankles, the ‘story’ is an almost cloyingly wholesome caricature of country life. And the rampant fetishisation of Britain’s countryside continues inside because the Shed really is, er, a shed, albeit a very beautiful one with good heating. There’s even a bar with a tractor top flown overhead, from which hearty-looking barmen pluck tinkling wine glasses.
To be fair to them, they do seem pretty committed to their values, and – rather wonderfully – the menu changes every day depending on what ingredients the farm throws up. Everything is seasonal, which was unfortunate for me as it meant that beetroot was positively having a party all over the menu, dipping its slimy purple toe in at least half of the dishes on offer. I’ve tried to like beetroot, I really have, but it tastes just too much like soil for me.
Luckily, there was plenty else on offer.
We each started with one of the Shed’s ‘mouthfuls’ – elaborately constructed (and financially gratifying, I imagine) bite-size portions of seasonal produce priced at £1.50 each, sort of like an amuse-bouche. I was a bit disappointed it did not come pre-loaded on some sort of Sussex-themed spoonlet. It was delicious, but I always thought the point of such an item was to titillate the taste buds with flavours so wacky they could only really be served in miniature. On the contrary, what I really wanted was an entire plateful of hake rilette, lemon marmalade and dill.
I’d effectively been teased by a dead fish.
Our waiter, who looked reassuringly like somebody who does genuinely quite like his job, recommended we choose six dishes between us. That is the fun of small plates eating, after all: the OPTIONS. I’d returned just the day before from a work trip to Saudi, where pork is illegal, so it went without saying we’d be ordering the chorizo, which came out in a monstrous portion with a dollop of labneh (Greek strained yoghurt), deep-fried kale and great shards of crispbread (£8.00):
Next came a pair of beef cigars (£7.50), satisfyingly meaty and stuck upright in a pool of tarragon mustard. The cigars were amazing – so amazing I managed to only take photos of my thumb – and had proper heft to them, although the mustard might be a bit too punchy for some. There was also the pan-fried goat’s cheese with hazelnut, honey and thyme (£6.50), which wasn’t as generously proportioned as the chorizo or beef, but incredibly rich and savoury-sweet.
Next came the surprise of the night – a delicious and carefully constructed mess of turnip, red cabbage, walnut, cranberry and tahini (£8.50) – which we’d ordered on a whim after we were gently chided by our waiter for ordering too many meat dishes.
Finally there was the pork belly with lentils and black cabbage (£8.00), which I was a bit miffed to have bringing up the rear. We ordered it because Hannah, my dinner date for the evening, is a belly fan of the first degree, though in my experience it’s always too gristly. I’m the kind of person who always takes the bacon out of its butty to remove the rind, so I just assumed pork belly and I were never to be. Clearly I’d only been eating it cooked by total amateurs, though, because this melted exquisitely on the tongue like a meaty truffle. Which, according to Hannah, is how it should be.
Puddings at the Shed are fairly limited – if you don’t like cheese or chocolate, then you’re going without – but fortunately Hannah and I are great believers in sticky brown desserts, which is how we ended up with these:
Behold! In the foreground, orange marmalade, dark chocolate and oat biscuit tart (£6.00), which was almost too big a portion considering how rich it was. Behind there’s Hannah’s honeycomb, chocolate, mascarpone and tarragon sugar dessert (£6.00), which although a little more unusual was essentially a posh Crunchie bar on a plate. It was good though.
All in all, it was a fantastic evening. Not a single dish let the side down, although it was odd how the turnip dish was the most expensive. Must be the walnuts, I suppose. It’s all very twinkly and festive, and outside they have a little deck with fairy lights and blankets, so it would actually be a pretty magical place for a date.
Overall, we spent £49 each for all the dishes listed above (prices noted individually), two small glasses of wine and three G&Ts, which included a 12.5% tip. I was expecting to spend more, so overall felt it was great value for just a wide variety of flavours. It might actually be my new favourite restaurant in London, an accolade previously held by both Hakkasan and Hawksmoor, so I’d absolutely recommend it. We visited on a Wednesday evening and booked ahead – it gets very busy, so try and get a reservation! You can find the Shed at 122 Palace Gardens Terrace, W8 4RT (nearest tube Notting Hill Gate), or find out more online.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.