WLC’s Lucy Shaw heads to Fat Duck duo Jonny Lake and Isa Bal’s new venture in London Bridge for the best chicken of her life and a bizarre yet beautiful potato pud.
The concept: Named after a tripod-shaped cast iron cooking device placed over fires for pots and kettles to rest on, Trivet sees The Fat Duck dynamic duo, chef Jonny Lake and sommelier Isa Bal, join forces again, only this time they have struck out on their own.
The restaurant is housed in acavernous contemporary site tucked away down a quiet side street called Snowfields close to London Bridge station, which was most recently occupied by Portuguese chef Leandro Carreira, whose debut London venture, Londrino, sadly closed last February little more than a year after opening.
We predict a sunnier future for Trivet, where Lake and Bal have made a clean break from the finicky molecular cooking of The Fat Duck, so don’t arrive expecting bacon and egg ice cream and snail porridge. Having joined The Fat Duck within weeks of each other back in 2005, the pair have a deep understanding of one another and work intuitively on new food and wine matches.
The décor: Having inherited a handsome space with a neutral colour scheme and pared down Nordic aesthetic of natural wood and brushed metal, Trivet has kept the look of the 100-cover space similar to its Londrino days, using the same wooden tables and chairs, honeycomb-patterned blonde wood floor and statement open kitchen in the middle of the room.
Our table gave us a direct view into the open kitchen, where Lake can be seen at the pass calmly creating the dishes under low-hung copper lights – this isn’t a restaurant that a celebrity chef has given their name to then disappeared off to their next big opening.
The lighting veered on the overly bright, particularly towards the end of the night when a more flattering softer scheme would have been favourable.
During our visit on a bleak early January evening the place was buzzing with an eclectic assortment of guests, including someone who looked suspiciously like George Osborne. Emphasising the venue’s informal ethos, staff wear smart-casual pale blue shirts and grey aprons, and there isn’t a tablecloth in sight.
The food: Having spent 13 years honing his skills at the three Michelin-starred Fat Duck, softly spoken Canadian father of three, Jonny Lake, is a chef of the highest calibre, but he wears his talent lightly and isn’t keen on showing off.
I was surprised by how conservative some of his dishes were, as if he seemed keen to get as far away from his molecular past as possible. While there is a significant amount of technical wizardry that goes into his dishes, this is executed behind the scenes. The cooking processes will be shared with curious diners, but you have to ask if you’re keen to find out, as the majority of the dishes are deceptively simple in appearance.
Working with locally sourced, ethically produced ingredients, the menu is easy to navigate, offering a selection of five starters, mains and desserts rather than a plethora of sharing plates.
Though we didn’t try them, bar snacks like wagyu tongue and anchovy (£8;50); French fries with onion ketchup (£4.50); and fried chicken wings with wasabi mayo (£8.50) showcase Lake’s more playful side.
Our meal began with a pair of salty celeriac and cardamom crackers (£3.50) that were crack-like in their addictiveness and left me craving for more.
Next up was a pile of silky slivers of nutty culatello ham (£11) that we snaffled in seconds. My starter – a sour cream and onion ‘puffini’ with pea purée, caviar and mirin sabayon (£21), makes use of the panini machine left over from the Londrino days.
The decadent puff pastry parcels were given lovely lift by the airy sabayon, but my companion’s pici pasta with red mullet and artichokes (£14.50) was the better dish, the al dente strands of pici slathered in a rich, buttery sauce laced with Chardonnay. Lake likes to cook with wine – he uses Muscat grapes in his vinegar sauce and saké in his ice cream – which I’m all for.
Signature dishes: I decided to go against my better judgement when it came to the main, and ordered the Cotswold chicken with a vinegar sauce (£29). I would never usually order a chicken dish in a restaurant, as I often find them dull and uninspiring, but I’d read good things about the dish, so decided to give it a go.
It was probably the best chicken I’ve ever eaten – Lake had managed to achieve a moistness in the meat that I’ve never before encountered, and at the same time had crisped up the skin until gloriously golden and almost Marmite-like in its savouriness.
After service he talked me through the elaborate process behind such a trick, which involved a quick blast in a blisteringly hot oven, followed by a long cool, then basting via numerous injections and a slow sous-vide cook.
The chicken is then finished in a hot pan, first with oil then without. The majority of diners will have no idea of the pains Lake has gone to in order to achieve that enviably moist meat, and the dish is in danger of appearing too classical in composition to be exciting, but it perfectly illustrates his desire to serve honest dishes cooked with impeccable ingredients.
Another must try dish is the Hokkaido potato dessert (£14) – a baked potato mille-feuille filled with a potato and white chocolate mousse, with a buttered potato topping, served with a scoop of saké ice cream.
This was far and away the prettiest dish of the evening, and the most playful and inventive in terms of taste. There’s a trend for sweet-savoury desserts in London at the moment, with many chefs weaving mushrooms and herbs into their puds.
The dish was inspired by a trip Lake and Bal took to Sapporo in northern Japan, where they were served a steaming potato topped with butter in an izakaya bar. The wafer-thin layers of the mille-feuille are made from roasted potato skins, pink peppercorns and buttery puff pastry.
The balance between sweet and savoury flavours was spot on, the saltiness of the potato evening out the richness of the cream. It has already become an Instagram hit and will likely be kept on the menu as a permanent fixture.
The drinks: One of Trivet’s biggest draws is its wine list, which has been lovingly created by Turkish-born master sommelier Isa Bal, who is keen to shine a light on wines from some of the world’s lesser-known regions that were early in on the wine game, from Turkey and Syria to Armenia.
Taking over a year to create, the 350-bin list is ordered chronologically, listing wines from ancient regions like Georgia upfront and newer regions like California towards the end. The bible-thick list is beautifully packaged, its terracotta-coloured cover featuring an amphora. Bottles are priced with surprisingly low mark-ups.
I began with an almond-scented glass of umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur), which also popped up at the end of the meal as the pairing for a sensational almond and cherry tart. The by-the-glass offering is currently small and could be developed, but everything we tried was interesting and delicious, from a tightly-woven, intensely mineral Assyrtiko from Santorini (£11), to an earthy, ethereal, Pinot-like Areni Noir from Armenia. The thin-stemmed, Zalto-eque glassware was on point too.
Who to know: Wine lovers should seek out the expertise of Isa Bal, who will guide you through his impressive and inventive list. He’s the most humble and self-effacing master sommelier you could hope to meet, and keeps a blue and white nazar amulet in his cellar for good luck.
What could be done better: While I had a wonderful time at Trivet, and found the staff well informed and welcoming, I left wishing I’d been a little more wowed by the food. Perhaps this stems from a desire for some of the fireworks from The Fat Duck, but it’s clear Jonny Lake wants to do something completely different with Trivet.
Last word: While it’s hard to fault the cooking, some of the mains played it a bit too safe in their ‘meat and two veg’ format, and lacked the refinement of presentation I’d expect from a chef of Lake’s calibre. I appreciate his desire to serve honest dishes, but there’s no harm in creating food that is pretty to look at.
Trivet needs a few more flashes of brilliance like the Hokkaido potato to get the foodies talking and the investment bankers through the door. The foundation is there for Trivet to become a truly brilliant neighbourhood restaurant that draws food fanatics away from Mayfair and Soho, but it needs to take a few more risks to keep them coming back.
Trivet, 36, Snowfields, London SE1 3SU; Tel: +44 (0)20 3141 8670