A confession- you Proper Foodies, prepare to clutch those pearls- but a restaurant’s claims around sustainability, whether genuine or just PR window dressing, don’t loom large when I’m choosing where to eat. When the language around a place is dominated by ‘sustainability credentials’, I find myself rolling my eyes and muttering YES BUT TELL ME ABOUT THE FOOD. I should care more, I know: mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and all that. I don’t really care what you do when I’m not there: just feed me well when I am.
Fallow walks that line with some style. It’s all right there on the menu but never seems preachy. On a muggy night in St James the room is packed, and our table isn’t quite ready: at a busy bar we drink very acceptable Negronis and try not to look too impatient.
Expectations are high. A flurry (yes, that’s the accepted collective noun) of messages before, during and after the meal mean we have arrived fully armed with recommendations. Many are from Cardiff chefs, dazzled by the place. (One even offers to work up an at-home version of the renowned mushroom parfait. And yes, if you’re reading this, I’ll hold you to it).
It is soon obvious why chefs come here: to magpie ideas, to absorb some of the ‘killer creative edge’ lauded by the National Restaurant Awards when it placed Fallow at 26 this year.
I suppose it’s an odd word for somewhere with such a relaxed atmosphere: but Fallow is all about intensity. Not hushed reverence, that sterile genuflecting over plates: there’s no room for that here, the large room thrumming with the ebb and flow of Friday night laughter and intrigue. No, it’s the evidence of the time and skill going into this menu.
Take the famed cod’s head, a dish so emblematic of what they do here, you can buy the t-shirt. If you need a measure of the levels of preparation and commitment here, though, consider the home cooking instructions open with: ‘This is a delicious and relatively simple recipe, once you’ve waited for the sriracha to ferment (you need 4–6 weeks.)’
Costs must be wince-inducing: we are in the neighbourhood of Jermyn Street and Savile Row’s twin temples to classic British tailoring, with Fortnum & Mason close by, so you’ll pardon me for feeling underdressed. Unsurprisingly some of the pricing here is, at least on the face of it, eyebrow-raising.
Take the £18 cabbage. A cabbage? For £18? If you’re rolling your eyes at That London, give me a moment. It’s a playground of textures, at times crisp, at others silken. It’s a showstopper: it’s easy to lavish that kind of love and attention on glamorous headline proteins, but far less obvious to do so on more ‘humble’. Smoked for two days, lascivious with miso butter and pungent with black garlic, it’s a sumptuous thing, that rare kind of alchemy where the everyday becomes something rare and precious, awash with flavour.
Some fishy maths: typically a whole cod, after being portioned into polite fillets, will see up to half its bodyweight jettisoned. Fallow’s estimate is that they save tonnes of the things going to waste. Off the charcoal and onto the table it’s a striking thing, its architecture gradually revealed as you go frolicking and fossicking around the cheek and behind the jawbones to turn up everything edible: from little scraps and nuggets to thick fingers of flesh, exploring the textures from meaty to gelatinous and all points in between.
It is all under the baleful glare of that milky marble (no, after you) but has the happy bonus of taking us back to our Spanish road trip and to an extraordinary meal at one of my all-timers, Abel Alvarez’ Gueyü Mar- a meal you can read about here.
Here come a couple of short ribs, and….oh, Pete has to take a call for a couple of minutes. The next few minutes are a test of character: I don’t think there’s a better testament to decades of friendship than the fact I resist them until he returns. Rarely can any bond have come under more intense pressure.
Forget your 300 Spartans, David facing down Goliath and the Chernobyl trio: this is true heroism.
Happily, that rare moment of self control is richly rewarded: the meat slumps off those thick bones with barely a token shrug. This is exemplary stuff: these must be the most impressive ribs I’ve eaten since Smokestak’s USDA prime rib with pickled red chillies. 2016: a masterpiece. Not that I’m keeping count or anything.
Tell me about the octopus. Is it good? I ask our young server. Well, I’m Spanish, he smiles, and immediately we understand each other. Perhaps he too has memories of kitchens filled with the unmistakable and unforgettable smell of boiling octopus. (Perhaps, perhaps not: I don’t ask his mother, sitting on the next table, and beaming with pride. Either way, it’s inescapable for anyone growing up in a Spanish family.) That curry carries far more heft and punch than your usual tikka masala, the toasted spices pinging all through the sauce and the flesh delicately meaty. This is a stunner, a plate of seductively beautiful cooking, and one of the most impressive things I’ve eaten this year.
If knowing good octopus is a given, knowing a good croqueta tops it. Fallow’s are sweetly nutty things, put together so expertly you almost fear they won’t survive the journey to your mouth. They teeter on that cusp of ‘will they, won’t they’ only the best get right.
The hits just keep on coming. There’s a light, puffy bread, topped with a thick tangle of beef short rib, punched up with chimichurri and kimchi. Sweetcorn ribs come liberally kombu-seasoned, with a sticky intensity: sweet, chewy, immediately compelling. And here’s a reminder of what an underrated fish mackerel is, firm little bites in a punchy XO sauce salved by thin ribbons of some turnip shenanigans.
Though it’s busy, service throughout is superb- the only error is when we are brought a second plate of those ribs we haven’t ordered. I will take missteps like that all week: in fact, if any of my regular haunts are reading, I am happy to overlook all sorts of similar oversights.
Mushrooms are often under-appreciated. Here, they are celebrated here with their famous parfait. A silky mushroom parfait mimics the richness of chicken versions in the most opulent way. Resistance is futile: it’s audaciously good, densely flavoured, luxuriously textured, and the overall effect is like being whipped into submission with a silk scarf. It is so good you would pay good money to lick it off Ann Widdecombe. Owners Jack Croft and William Murray are avowed mycophiles with a dedicated mushroom-growing room on site (I’m not doing the ‘they are not only mushroom lovers- but fun guys!’ gag, we are all better than that). It’s worth the trip alone.
It is possible to leave Fallow a little dazzled, a little intoxicated with the reality of it all. That’s less to do with the fig leaf Negronis, than with a couple of hours in a place which both thrills and reminds you why you spend more money in restaurants than is strictly sensible. This, I’d suggest, is what restaurants are for. Is it worth telling you that a year ago, Jay Rayner thought it was ‘serving some of the best food I’ve tried in London right now’? Probably, because if nothing else, he annoys precisely the right type of people.
Fallow wears its impressive skills lightly. This is a restaurant you- yes, you- should experience at least once. And soon, too: their £40 set lunch is outrageously tempting, but if you’re going to make the effort to travel to London to eat here- and, labouring the point, you should- then do it properly. Indulge yourself. Enjoy that laid-back intensity.
‘Not a “serious restaurant”, just a seriously bloody good one’ a Cardiff chef messages just as I leave. He’s quoting a London colleague who had also fallen for Fallow.
And really, that’s perfect.
Mon – Fri: 07:30 am – 11 pm
Sat: 10 am – 11 pm
Sun: 11:30 am – 10 pm
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.