Flora at joy serves only the freshest ingredients
This West London pop-up brings a welcome helping of joyous seasonal cooking
It’s been a while since I first sat on this concrete terrace, gazing out over a sun-baked, concrete-hewn West London skyline. A decade, to be precise, back when the space was known as Dock Kitchen and chef Stevie Parle was the new winner of the 2010 Young Chef of the Year. How times have changed.
These days, Parle is more seasoned veteran than fresh talent but with a slew of loved restaurants under his belt, his return to Portobello Dock with Flora at the pop-up Joy is a rare glimmer of, well, joyous, news.
He’s here today too, secateurs in hands, pruning some of the 1000 odd gardenia that were once destined for the Hampton Court Flower Show. That was cancelled, but they now sit prettily in planters that act as breaks between the tables. Bees buzz, the outdoor grill smokes gently, and we sit in the cool shade of parasols. The vehicular snarl of Ladbroke Grove seems a long way off.
Menus are downloaded via telephones, and masks worn by all the staff. ‘It’s about making the experience as comfortable as possible,’ says Parle as he passes by. ‘Hyper seasonal’ food, says the menu, hyper fresh too, as we crunch through a plate of vegetables – cucumber, tomatoes, Romesco pepper, peppery radishes – that holler with late summer vitality, all dragged through a softly saline slick of smoked cod’s roe.
There’s a chicken salad, with bounteous chunks of succulent meat, and pert leaves slicked with a sharp dressing, and shards of crisp fried bread, simple, yet joyous. As the sun beats down, we swig ice cold rose, and dig into clams with sweet slivers of guanciale. The juices are so good that I slurp them from the bowl.
Welsh lobster is charred from the grill, but its centre just undercooked, so you still taste that swish of ozone, like waves crashing on the rocks. Lardo, melted into the flesh, that adds the most subtle of savoury whispers. It reminds me how good this thuggish crustacean can be.
A fat pork chop, bursting with juice and blessed with the thrill of the grill, tastes of a life well lived. Stewed borlotti beans, with an elegant acidity, are scented with summer herbs. We end with a bowl of cherries, plump as Ma Larkin’s bosom, and equally fecund. And a strawberry sorbet that tastes like iced summer holidays. Every detail is just right, from the warmest of service, to the sheer brilliance of the ingredients and cooking. It takes hard work, and talent, to make things seem so effortless. This place makes me very happy. Joy indeed.
Flora, about £30 a head, Portobello Dock, 344 Ladbroke Grove, London W10; joyatportobello.co.uk
Drinks: Olly’s new-wave wines
When it comes to baked beans, I have a comfort zone. For years Heinz has ruled my world – and by and large I remain loyal. But occasionally Corale, Duchy Organic or Whole Earth slips into my basket and the difference is palpable, if not always pleasurable. Where wine’s concerned, it’s well worth reaching beyond your usual safe bet for two simple reasons: there are thousands of lesser-known gems and, secondly, they deliver sensational value for money. Added to that they are so delicious your toes will twiddle with joy. Time to take the plunge.
Brancott Estate Marlborough Pinot Grigio 2019 (13.5%), £8.25, Morrisons. Who knew pinot could be this good? With lush tropical fruit, it’s spot on with spicy dishes.
The Society’s Greek White 2019 (12%), £8.95, thewinesociety.com. Incredible value for a refreshing, gently floral triumph from Greece. Taste the future of fine wine.
Pinot Gris Vom Kalkstein 2018 (12%), £11.25, yapp.co.uk. Groovy, indulgent – and I can’t get enough. Peachy perfection with a chicken tikka masala.
Hidden Spring Chardonnay 2019 (11%), £20, hiddenspring.co.uk. Knocks spots off Chablis at similar prices with the impact of a peachy meteorite.
Dardell Organic Red 2019 (14%), from £8.99, majestic.co.uk. My wine of the week. Packed with fruity finesse and a tantalising tangy flourish. Bottled wonderment.