Friends, 11 High Street, Pinner HA5 5PJ • 020 8866 0286
Reviewed by Jill Glenn
I love a restaurant that sends out a little pre-starter ‘with the compliments of the chef’, just to get the tastebuds going. Today there’s a pulled pork tartlet each: dainty in size, but with a mouth-filling impact. The shortcrust pastry is beautifully short – with a good crunch, it just melts away – and the meat is tender and flavoursome. This is a very tasty little tidbit that promises much for the food that is to come.
My companion starts with the Chicken liver parfait, onion marmalade and toasted brioche. The parfait arrives in a little Kilner-style jar, and has a satisfactorily dense texture, combined with a rich, mellow taste. Overall, the effect is surprisingly light, and leaves a sense of sweetness in the mouth. There’s not quite enough toast, but we’ve already been furnished with a generous plate of bread rolls (white, wholemeal, olive, walnut) and one of these proves more than adequate. Even so, the generous portion of parfait has to go unfinished.
My Seared scallops, served with pea purée, black pudding crumble, crispy bacon and sage oil, don’t suffer the same fate: I clear every last morsel. From the brilliantly green pea purée to the sweet, sea flavours of the fleshy scallops, this is a classic combination of tastes and textures. The crumble adds a particularly arresting savoury hit.
‘To follow’, as the menu describes it, my guest has chosen Lamb (loin and shoulder), boulangère potato, shallot purée, confit garlic and wild mushrooms. She reports the flavour of the meat as lovely, although a sharper knife would be helpful. The nuggets of mushroom and the garlic add great depth; the boulangère potato gets a thumbs up, and a well-flavoured jus draws the whole dish together.
On my side of the table Roast duck breast, with caramelised figs, braised kale, butternut squash and almond croquettes, looks wonderfully autumnal on the plate. There are two good sized and deliciously flavoured pieces of duck, tender and cooked to perfection, and nicely enhanced by a purée of butternut squash. The kale is iron-rich, although perhaps a little under-seasoned. The fig adds a welcome rich fruitiness, although doesn’t have enough presence on the plate. The surprising success, though, is the inspired addition of the almond croquettes: crunchy and crispy on the outside, creamy and soft within… just fabulous. I could eat them all evening.
Desserts are superb. Mandarin cheesecake, cranberry sphere, sweet chestnuts and thyme cress proves to be the very definition of ‘deconstructed’: two quenelles of soft and tangy cheesecake, chewy with the chestnuts, with the crumb scattered liberally around. The light topping of cress is pretty, though it adds little to the flavour. That aside, this is beguiling. The Honey cream, spiced apple and pear compote with sesame tuile is another success: the rich honey flavour is a-ma-zing, and although the compote isn’t as poached as I expect, it’s light and bright in the mouth, and a great contrast to the cream.
This is clever food, from a chef with imagination, and an eye for both style and substance. With espresso and petits fours to finish we are replete.