The other weekend over a sunny Saturday lunchtime my friend Edward and I were invited along to have lunch at John Doe in Westbourne Park. Not a part of town either of us know very well, we wandered around the weekend market for a bit before sitting down for a lovely bottle of Portuguese white wine and a three course meal cooked without gas; the chefs at John Doe cook everything using the heat from either wood or charcoal, going back to traditional cooking techniques, but taking inspiration from world cuisine.
We settle down at the bar in front of the open kitchen with a delicious bottle of Portuguese white wine (second bottle down on the menu) to chat to the chef about their cooking techniques; how using either charcoal pieces or compounded pieces affects the cooking temperature, and about how when they use wood logs they always soak them for better control. Sometimes they also put orange in the soaking liquid, just to add a little bit of extra flavour to the smoke. A useful tip for next years barbecue.
To kick off proceedings I ordered the Grilled Octopus with Chickpeas and Aioli. Bloody hell this was a good dish. I watched my octopus get grilled straight onto the top shelf of the wood fired oven, and then assembled into this beautiful plate. It was deliciously tender, not chewy in the slightest and some of the best octopus I've had in a while. The chickpeas were also beautiful and tender with a wonderful flavour (soaked by a pro). The rich aioli and the sharp, herby dressing the octopus was tossed in finished the dish off perfectly.
Edward had the Griolles with the Duck Egg and Pane Fritto. As well as looking great on the plate, it really packed a good amount of umami flavour, and you honestly did not lose out by ordering a veggie dish. I had a bite at the beginning, and when he said he was about to finish, did I want any more at first I told him he could finish his own dish - then I thought better of it and swooped in for a final bit. I may order this one next time!
While I did not have order envy as my own food was so delicious, one thing that I may be ordering next time is the perfectly cooked and full of flavour Roe Deer Steak (so hard to get right, and this one was spot on) served with bone marrow (topped with herbs and bread crumbs), a punchy dressed watercress and caper salad, and some of the best french fries I've had in ages on the side. If you want a good steak, this one is faultless.
However, as I said I was in no way jealous as my main was pretty brilliant also. Coal baked crab claws. Buttered rice. A perfectly balanced Keralan Curry. Yogurt with herbs and chilli oil. The type of perfect Malaysian style flatbread I learned to make last year but have not tried since. Loads of fresh coriander. It all went together so beautifully, it was a true pleasure to eat. If you love crab, and you love light, fragrant curries, this one is for you. The flavour combination was so spot on.
We pretty much fancied all of the desserts, so we decided to get two to share. This is the Demerara meringue (flavoured with orange) served with whipped cream, roasted plums and a crumbling of amaretto biscuit on top. A pleasure to eat; the orange gives it that little bit that makes you think.
We also ordered a warm slice of the Fig and Almond Tart, served with Normandy creme fraiche. I must say the bite of this I had was delicious, but it must have had the thumbs up from Edward as most of it vanished while I was attacking the meringue! Always a good recommendation, though.
Because it was his favourite from the menu, the chef also brought us a taster of the chocolate terrine served with single cream and finely chopped pistachios. Rich, dense, unadulterated chocolate, and perfect for any total chocolate lover, any of the three desserts we had would perfectly round up the meal.
We both really, really enjoyed our lunch; John Doe is the perfect spot for a nice lunch for just the two of you on a sun drenched Autumn afternoon. I know brunch is the thing to do at the weekend, but actually, it is places like this that bring good old traditional lunch back into vogue.