Nutbourne, London SW11, restaurant review: 'a worthy flourish, a charming smile and... not much else'

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Barbecused cuttlefish, courgettes, chorizo, almond and lemon, on the menu at Nutbourne, a Gladwin Brothers restaurant in Battersea, London
Barbecused cuttlefish, courgettes, chorizo, almond and lemon, on the menu at Nutbourne, a Gladwin Brothers restaurant in Battersea, London

Ransome’s Dock, 35-37 Parkgate Road, London SW11 4NP

020 7350 0555; nutbourne-restaurant.com

Lunch for two about £80

The irony of travelling to Nutbourne in Battersea, south-west London, for a farm-to-fork "taste of the Sussex countryside”, when I live a quite literal stone’s throw from the Sussex countryside, was not lost on me. After an hour’s drive, 40 minutes on a train, 10 minutes on another train and then 10 more minutes on a bus, followed by a short stroll, I found myself in what could be described as “negative novelty equity”. But hey (or, as we say out in the rurals – and not necessarily followed by the word “festival” – “hay”): here I was, suffering from déjà vu.

Nutbourne opened last year, in the space occupied for many years by Ransome’s Dock, where Martin Lam, previously of one of my favourite 1980s London restaurants, L’Escargot, cooked pukka Modern-British-with-Medi-Twists long before Jamie had bought his first scooter. Ransome’s Dock shut in 2013, evolved briefly into something else and then was taken over last year by the Gladwin brothers, a hearty-looking and clearly corn-fed trio of siblings who grew up on a farm (Nutbourne) with a vineyard near Pulborough, in West Sussex, and whose homespun, country-food-for-townies shtick has popped up in London at venues such as The Shed and Rabbit; Richard Gladwin also brought us the capital's most Sloane-friendly pizzeria, Bunga Bunga.

Indeed, if ever there was a week to raise a cold beer and shout, 'Yay to Democracy and Dinner!' then this week has been that week

I’ve visited none of these. However, Nutbourne sounded exactly the sort of heart-warming, stomach-lining English ticket to visit just three days after the London Bridge/Borough Market horrorshow and two days before an election. Indeed, if ever there was a week in which to eat out al fresco while raising a cold beer and shouting “Yay to Democracy and Dinner!” then this week has been that week. 

However, this week has also been cold and windy with an inevitable England-in-June wetness so, instead, I hunkered down inside Nutbourne’s interior (bafflingly claiming to be inspired by the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which when I last looked were not quite so lost that they’d suddenly rocked up in Sussex). I was completely charmed by a sweet young waiter who informed me it was his second day on the job so he didn’t yet know if they had the blonde-ish sort of beer I craved while waiting for my running-late-date, but of course he’d see.

The dining room at Nutbourne

And whatever it was I ended up with worked for me, so while waiting I hit the bread-and-fancy-butters and, starting to relax, ordered a time-killing “snack plate” of raw veg and whipped cod’s roe. This arrived entirely unspun – just a clutch of naked carrot slivers, cauli-chunklets and randomly chopped celery bits set around a small pond of smashed roe… all of which might have been charming if presented to you by a fetchingly dimplesome small child while you were round a friend’s house for a summery Sunday lunch; however, when presented in a proper restaurant, in SW11, for a fiver, looked at best a bit gauche, at worst a bit cheeky. Oh deer. (As we says, in the rurals).

I chose the set menu (for which there were no choices): a fishy broth, followed by belly of pork and a salted caramel tart with brown bread ice cream – all in for “19.5”. My date (clearly fazed by a crosstown yomp) chose the squid ink crab linguine followed by the goat’s cheese stuffed courgette flower, peas, gnocchi, mint and lemon verbena, the latter dish alone costing “16”, which seemed cheeky rather than gauche for a courgette flower.

My clear broth contained three mussels, some twigs of samphire and a slice of pepper, and tasted, quite remarkably, of (and I struggle here, because it sounds like a complete critical cop-out) precisely nothing. Meanwhile, Bloke’s squid-inked crab linguine was declared “bland, though the crab’s nice enough when you can find it”. There was no salt or pepper on the table, either. Now, I am all for farm-to-fork – even via the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I heartily approve of eating a pig-with-provenance, that has happily snortled its way around a lovely, happy, organo-sustainy family farm. All of that. But it really does have to taste of something.

However, the theme of decent raw materials presented with nothing but a charming smile and a worthy flourish continued. The reduction in which my fatty pork belly hunkered managed the slightly extraordinary feat of smelling like burned pot-bottom while tasting of an indeterminate – your choice here – cooked meat; it was devoid of both sweetness and tang, as if the flavour had been deliberately sieved away. I can’t recall eating food quite this tasteless – as in devoid of actual taste – since I’d failed to discern any difference between  a series of veggie bakes at Cranks, sometime in the 1970s.

Bloke’s hot chocolate fondant and peanut butter ice cream was properly pig’s-eared by the addition of 'candied bacon'

My salted caramel tart arrived so fast the plate had clearly been whipped straight out of the fridge, its diced strawberry so chilled it called for Sensodyne. It was neither particularly salty, nor caramelly. Meanwhile, Bloke’s hot chocolate fondant and peanut butter ice cream was cold in the middle and properly pig’s-eared by the addition of “candied bacon”, literally a sugared slice of streaky, which is a horrid idea.

The service remained excellent and charming and by the time we were the last diners, I’d discovered that our waiter, 23, had gone to the same school where my eldest son currently graces Year 10. If this is his chosen path then hurrah for young British men treating restaurant service as a career rather than just a job. As for Nutbourne, I really wish I could pretend that having one’s farm and forks in the right places was sufficient to overcome an inability to cook any better than I can – but hay.