Nestled in Barnes, South West London, is Sonnys Kitchen, a true purveyor of innovative British cuisine. Brainchild of restaurateurs Phil Howard and Rebecca Mascarenhas, it fuses minimalistic modernity with an eclectic array of art.
The focal piece of the restaurant is a strikingly gorgeous terrazzo fireplace by Bruce McLean, a Scottish performance artist and painter with an international following, known for his somewhat rebellious peak in the mid-60s. With the addition also of drawings and paintings by some of modern and contemporary art’s most elite (namely Jim Dine, Bill Jacklin and Elisabeth Frink), the feeling at Sonnys Kitchen is that we are dining in a small gallery or in an art-collector’s house.
The kitchen is headed up by Tommy Boland who was previously a chef at Mayfair’s two Michelin starred The Square. His food here focuses on creating a contemporary twist on classic British staples. For example, the avocado and bacon salad is served with the East End favourite, eel, rather than the classic chicken, and the foie gras and chicken liver parfait gets some fruity flair with the addition of blood orange and rhubarb. The selection is diverse but considered, with the real standout options being the reasonably priced “SK” burger, served with a smoked onion relish, and the excellent selection of fish dishes, such as the roasted fillet of turbot with farfalle. The menu changes to include seasonal ingredients, but there are always options to suit every taste.
The staff clearly love what they do, and are more than happy to offer more information about everything on the menu. The waitresses are notably friendly and welcoming, and are able to help us with the seemingly impossible task of building the perfect meal from one of the most mouth-watering menus I’ve ever come across.
To start, I opt for the mackerel salad, which looked like a piece of modern art in itself. It is beautifully presented without being fussy or pretentious, and manages to taste even better than it looks. It comes with mustard dressed potatoes and beetroot, which gives a refreshing mix of textures. I watch, in jealousy, as my companion works his way through a generous plate of home-cured salmon, one of the more traditional starters at Sonnys Kitchen – not that this is any bad thing: some things just shouldn’t be messed with and the chef has made the right choice letting the salmon speak for itself.
After subjecting our poor waitress to another period of indecision, I settle on the cod after some mental rallying between it and the divine-sounding wild mushroom croustillant. However, my continuous fretting is soon abated when my cod arrives, studded with mussels, atop leek and creamed potato. The fish is chunky and flaky and cooked to perfection and, although I’ve never seen cod accompanied with shellfish before, it is an excellent combination. My fellow diner chooses the roasted stone bass which comes, unusually, with an elegant swirl of pumpkin purée and hazelnut butter. The sweet pumpkin offsets the saltiness of the fish, and the butter’s nuttiness, combined with sage, makes for an interesting alteration on the standard herb butter. At a time when London restaurants seem to be moving towards specialising in just one or two types of food (think MEATmarket and Bubbledogs), it’s reassuring to know that there are still places trying to do something a bit different still with plenty of variety.
Pudding is a surprisingly easy choice for a world-class ditherer. I’m not usually much of a pudding person, but when I see vanilla crème brûlée with cherries and kirsch on the menu, I know it has to be mine. I am definitely not disappointed. The crème brûlée itself is creamy and luxurious, and the kirsch gives a welcome, grown-up tang which cuts through the sweetness. I would go so far as to say it’s the best crème brûlée I’ve ever eaten… and I’ve eaten a lot of crème brûlée in a lot of places. My companion’s lime ice cream looks deceptively pretty and delicate for something quite so zesty and powerful. I notice it is the accompaniment to the passionfruit soufflé, which has me wishing, and not for the first time, that I could sample the entire menu.
I catch myself gazing lustfully across the restaurant at the other intriguing dishes weaving their way to other diners for much of the evening. The starter of linguine vongole, in particular, looks incredible and it’s something I’d definitely want to try in the future. I even find myself enviously watching one of our table neighbours tucking into a mixed green salad – and yes, I know: a mixed green salad comes with no frills, has none of the elegance which comes with the other fancy dishes with names dotted with diacritical marks and accents, but this mixed green salad, modest as it is, looks simply luscious. It’s only when I make eye-contact for the millionth time with someone trying to enjoy their brownie sundae that I realise I’m going to need to come back to try what everyone else is eating too.
Sonnys Kitchen is a highly commendable establishment. It manages to do what so many other places try to do, but fail to do: that is to skilfully put together unique and often surprising combinations of flavours, whilst still maintaining an element of tradition and culinary perfection. Whilst unconventional, the pairings never seem gratuitous or just for the sake of being creative. It can be too easy to fall into the trap of throwing together strange ingredients for the sake of going all out for gourmet, but the chefs here sidestep this risk neatly by, quite simply, keeping it all delicious and simple. Clearly, the chefs know what they’re doing: risks are taken, but not in an off-putting way. Everything works, and a lot of thought has clearly gone into not just the taste, but also the colour, texture and overall composition of each dish. Of course, it is expected that somewhere with such an abundance of art would also take pride in the aesthetics of its food. It’s attractive, it’s artful, but most importantly, it’s very, very tasty.
More info on Sonnys Kitchen see www.sonnyskitchen.co.uk
words Kayleigh Tanner