Sunday, 22 April 2012

40 Maltby Street

What a weekend!

I feel like I have so much to tell you, you faceless (and probably few!) readers. From the opening of a new yoga studio (Stretch at Nettle House) further perfecting my Saturday Broadway Market routine, to the best Japanese I've had in London (Izakaya bar Akari, housed in an unassuming pub in Angel), to "wandering bar" The Fourth Wall and a recent okonomiyaki obsession... maybe I should start doing a Friday download of the weekend's upcoming events. Maybe.

But first let's focus on Friday, shall we?

Friday night we headed to a late night of the Hirst at the Tate Modern. I was generally not a fan of an artist I consider to be a commerical-minded manipulator and whose art I thought wading-pool shallow (not strong opinions, these), but the exhibition was impressive - it charted how Hirst explored one theme - death - throughout his career and through some surprisingly profound pieces.

It did include the old over-hyped Hirst classics like his dot paintings and his infamous "The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Something Living" (aka "Jaws"), but some of their titles did transform the works from crude and obvious to something more enigmatic and his preserved creatures, almost peacefully suspended in their eternal baths, do have an innate beauty in their composed calm. The most surprising were the butterfly installation exploring life as a cycle (although could have been cooler as the original inhabited a full commercial space) and the stunning butterfly 'paintings', stained glass windows composed of intricate patterns of real butterfly's wings, imbuing them with a heart-wrenching delicacy and a cathedral calm.

I could go on, but on to the important stuff - where we ate.

It's been far too long coming, but we finally went to 40 Maltby Street, the restaurant housed within Gergovie Wine's warehouse in Maltby Street's arches. Since their opening early last year, Raef Hodgson and co. have been serving small plates to accompany their natural wines they sell by the glass or bottle at the bar, but last autumn they set up tables among the empty crates and opened a small kitchen to cater to a small crowd at dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings.

I had often popped in to the sparely-decorated space to say 'hi' on a Saturday morning mid-market trawl, but the place was transformed at night into something far more special. The communal tables and wrapping bars are perfect places to perch while trying one of the wines on offer, all interesting and lovingly described by Raef or one of his cohorts, while waiting for food from the changing menu scrawled on the chalkboard behind the bar.

Ever indecisive, we started with two of Raef's recommendations - a Chardonnay and a Sauvingnon Blanc. I was pleasantly startled to see how riveted the Bearded Boy was to my exclamations of surprise at how much I preferred the former over the latter, when I realized he was in fact looking over my shoulder, transfixed by LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy's presence at the bar. Not bad.

Desperately trying to play it cool in the presence of a demigod (some playing it cooler than others - ahem), we turned out attention to our first plate of fat white asparagus topped with hauntingly earthy morels and a poached egg, whose yolk melted into the pool of butter, thickening into a sinful sauce.

We quickly mopped up any remainders of the spring-y dish with St John bread (natch) as the next two dishes arrived along with a tangy bottle of Babiole.Our salad of chicken hearts and fat lardons was drizzled with an amazingly mustardy French vinaigrette, cutting what would have been overwelmingly fatty into ideal indulgence, and the "wet rice", a sort of paella-bouillabaisse hybrid, was a bastardization of neither and an improvement on both. It was topped with a rich and garlicky aioli, prompting further excuse to get the bread going.

Our final main was a guinea hen served with a vinegary red onion, all atop buttery barley. Again, the kitchen got the balance just right - the barley provided an earthy base for the tender, rich meat which was lightened with the almost-pickled onion and fresh parsley.

Still stopping ourselves from weeping at James Murphy's feet about the end of LCD (only just), we finished with a square of crème caramel to sate our sweet teeth.

Thinking back on the meal the morning after (with a slightly pounding head - the eau de vie really tipped the scales), I couldn't help but realize that 40 has every ingredient for a perfect place - a buzzing but low-key crowd, well-executed simple food, and a feel of somewhere still undiscovered. The wine situation is also ideal - you can get it by the glass, but you will probably buy the bottle. Whatever I can write will not be doing 40 any justice - this modest place is one of the most under-(if not un-)rated restaurant in London.

And, bottom line: if James Murphy likes it, you will too. It's science.

40 Maltby Street
40 Maltby Street (arch), Bermondsey, SE1 3PA (Thursday and Friday evening only!)

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