Restaurant Review: Kitchen Table by James Knappett

Two MICHELIN Star restaurant Kitchen Table is at the leafy end of foodie’s paradise, Charlotte Street in London and pushing through the first door is like stepping backstage into a dimly lit ‘Green Room’ adorned by fascinating culinary creatures who are there to delight you in the dishes they’ve created.  The room is lined with odd-shaped vases and tall flowers that might have been opening night gifts and, here a few weeks on from first night, after having been shut for 18 months, Kitchen Table is back and restaged for the next sell out run.

Snacks and drinks at the bar – had me purring!

Director of this kitchen-theatre-show-cum-experience is the extraordinary James Knappett who has made the already acclaimed Kitchen Table, incredible. New set, many new staff and new daily dishes and it all comes together, beautifully, for the final credits.

The first scene starts with first name recognition, ‘Welcome to Kitchen Table, you must be…’ perhaps easy enough to do with only 20 diners but that was very thoughtful especially as I was dining alone. Armed with a generously given gift voucher from pre-pandemic 2019 and greeted by charming Victorija, with whom I had been playing email ping-pong making sure that the voucher would be honoured, it was, and I was so relieved to finally get there.

Thankfully, James and his team survived the devastation that Covid is bringing to the hospitality industry with his mantra of improvise, adapt and overcome. It’s been a long break since they were last open but he’s used the time to build from the original hot dogs and fizz of Bubble Dogs & Kitchen Table in 2012 to this sleek, state-of-the-art kitchen and stylish new look.

It seems tasting menus are like Marmite, you either love ’em or not. Revered Marina O’Loughlin likened the chef’s table phenomenon as a ‘horseshoe of no escape’ or fabulous food critic, Grace Dent saying that tasting menus are akin to being kidnapped by the chef. Not for me, don’t send a search party or pay the ransom, I am happy here for the full five hours.

The show starts at 6pm on the dot and is only one sitting. I was loathe to leave at 11pm and one of the earliest to go.

Against a backdrop of spot-lit Rothkoesque canvasses and perched on a heavy stool in the corner bar I nibble on exquisite, intricate canapes. A rosemary mascarpone with bacon jam, sandwiched between crisp chicken skin wafers is a Jammy Dodger of a grown-up, mouth-sized treat presented and explained by one of the 20-strong brigade. A sip of the lemon verbena martini, a riff on the classic Vesper,  had me purring with delight.

After more divine ‘bar snacks’, and in the manner of the ‘beginners call’, we are ushered through heavy leather curtains into the low slung ampitheatre with its bright overhead lights, comforting 80s soundtrack, red ageing meats in fridges and sleek, shiny oak counters. I half expected to see backstage techies with headsets going through the countdown for a live version of Netflix’s The Final Table – in which James actually competed.

Kitchen Table may be difficult to get into, but it’s thoroughly worth it.

Counter-top dining makes for easier conversation with strangers (once you’ve elegantly hauled yourself up on the stool) – admiring the food and staring at the chefs rather than at each other. I had some great chats that night and was offered wine from my anniversary-celebrating neighbours, as well as top culinary gossip from a gastronaut who has trained some of the best chefs in UK.

It’s rather like Shakespeare scribed, this is a stage and we are playing our parts. It’s all rather thrilling.

Taking something from every top restaurant that James has worked in we are presented with 20 courses with bursts of flavour, intricately plated small food canvasses with a clever, creative edge focused on a single ingredient – beautifully. Scene after scene, with chefs appearing in front of you waving the future fare and then from off stage,  behind you, wait staff whipping away the plates and refreshing the cutlery. It’s a well-oiled open kitchen with Post-it notes and highlighter pens at the ready so that every detail is checked and the chefs can keep an eye on the quality and service – and it’s flawless.

Every course has a back story told by James from the pass, from the Myer lemons picked at his mother-in-law’s garden in LA when he visits for Christmas to the ice wine vinegar he sources from Minus Eight in Canada.

As it’s seasonal and foraged produce the menu will be slightly different every night.

Here’s what I ate and thought about it.

An early palette cleanser was the intense flavour of compressed melon and a radish so fresh and finely sliced that it simply unfolded on the plate. It seemed a classically ordered meal – fish, meat, cheese, pudding but. oh so much more. The ultimate in tear-and-share bread is served piping hot with butter and an evil eye of a wild garlic that’s been pickling for a year, hopefully warding off the heart attack that must surely come – in the richness of the food and the bill to follow.

Melon and radish – simple & stunning

There were some quite unwanted sweet moments, such as the translucent discs of cucumber which had a surprising crunch but was disappointing in the intentionally split cream and oil which was too sweet to enjoy. As was the meadowsweet and heart-shaped strawberry, delicious but too much of a gear change in the declining order from savoury to sweet.

Meadowsweet strawberry

Fish courses of hand-picked mussels that are left a bit longer in the sea so they are meatier and then the lovely warm, muddy-coloured lobster bisque with chunky, juicy lobster came in a fun jagged cup. The Chalk Stream trout topped with a slice of foie gras in a bath of 48-hour cooked onion consommé was now nearly jumping the shark. We were told the fish was killed humanely with a sharp spike into the brain producing immediate unconsciousness – half way through and this was  nearly how I was beginning to feel  – deliriously happy but keen on an interval.

We didn’t need the Truffle Hunters that night, there was so much of it on the plate of mushroom ravioli with a sumptuous aged Parmesan sauce. This is winter truffle from Australia – who knew – rIch and bright like their mines and sunshine, shaming our pathetic UK summer.

A mini baked buttered spud with a spoon of caviar on top is such a guilty pleasure and here is taken up a notch with a barbecued Jersey Royal in a frothy roast chicken sauce with a teaspoon of stunning Exmoor caviar providing the seasoning.

A highlight for me was the the lamb, the thinnest slice but the scent, the taste and the crunch were all there served with lettuce, unadorned, with a hint of mint redolent of the most flavoursome Sunday pub lunches but with a dollop of creme fraiche that takes you back to Saturday night kebabs of the Middle East (or Edgware Road). Sensational.

Sinodun Hill goat’s cheese was yoghurty with red-fruit flavour from the wrinkly, golden coloured rind served, again simply, with a single fresh ingredient, this time beetroot and with an onion tarte tatin was so flaky it floated above the plate.

Onion tart made with sweet Tropea onions from Calabria.

Desserts, if you could call these dishes that,  was the meadowsweet followed by a cherry with black pepper and ice cream that exploded with colour and flavour on the plate with meringues branded with a smoking ember in front of you – so much more than S’mores.

Cherry explosion

And like that, the Director yelled ‘cut’ and we were back in the bar, slightly stunned like the fish, to be presented with petit fours of a cube of fudge with a single flake of Maldon salt – absolute heaven, a slightly dry Canele and an unexpected Cep macaron bringing me back down to earth. We just need the set nurse to come round with smelling salts and hot, sweet tea. Wow, what a performance.

If you are up for it, there is a wine pairing flight of about eight glasses for £125 – and based on the sommelier’s choices for my white, and a not-so-pricey ‘near Bordeaux’ I would be tempted.

James and the team are justly rewarded with a hearty round of applause and in the tradition of rave reviews this is a five star smash hit that will run and run.

Playing Wednesday thru’ Saturday from 6 pm tickets cost £250 (not including drinks and service).

Kitchen Table – book here now.

The incredible menu/journey/call sheet at Kitchen Table

Behind this door an incredible show…


2 stars – says it all.