Kensington Place has long reigned as a grand dame on the Royal Borough’s culinary landscape. While other younger pretenders to her throne have come and gone, she has remained, stalwart and strong, proving her staying power as she refused to crumble even after founder chef patron, Rowley Leigh, exited her glass doors for a final time.
Which is just as well, since Leigh’s successor, Dan Loftin, has spent the last three years proving himself more than equal to the task of keeping things fresh and interesting at this dining institution; whilst Kensington Place may lay claim to a sort of queenly status on the gastro scene, under her head chef’s direction, she is proving that there’s more to her than reliable classics.
With his FISHBone menu – available only until the end of August – Loftin simultaneously redefines the concept of the pop-up and that of fast food. The excellent private dining room has savvily been rebranded while the Hillbillies holiday, and for two months only is known as Fish and Sips, a stripped-back affair with nods to east London and menus rolled up in wine bottles.
We kick off proceedings with a pimped up G&T that comes, appropriately enough, in a fishbowl-sized glass and a dash of lemonade, and a smoked fish sharing platter. Smoked salmon is delicate, buttery and flavoursome, while whitebait is satisfyingly crunchy and the mackerel pate is creamy and perfect when piled onto farmhouse style rustic hunks of toast.
We then are ushered into the main dining room, where we plump for a exquisitely minerally 2013 Alvarinho from Portugal, which is light enough to cut through the veritable feast that appears in a trice (the FISHBone menu is, after all, all about ‘fast’ food).
My companion, a committed carnivore, has spent the evening thus far quietly fretting that there shall, tonight, be no flesh for him to chomp on. He need not have worried, for in FISHBone, Loftin has created the meatiest menu ever not to feature any turf. Our charming waiter brings over a tray of barbecued fishy fare – and from the tuna burger to the prawn sausage, it is a triumph. The salmon, perhaps, is the least interesting of the dishes, not for lack of quality but only because everything else on the plate is so inventive (prawn sausage is surely a bucket list worthy concoction.)
You’ll have to be quick to sample FISHBone for, as the wicked Earl of Rochester once wrote, ‘no glorious thing was ever made to stay’. As sublime as it is transient, the grande dame has shown a bit a leg this summer.