‘That’s What I Do’, is the latest restaurant from Peter Ilic, a man with a reputation for doing things differently if not a little perversely. With food this good, says Nick, he can do whatever he wants.
In 1992 Peter Ilic opened Little Bay in Kilburn serving great value Modern European and French cuisine in bonkersly opulent surroundings. He went on to open more Little Bays and prospered.
His Little Bay Battersea though had a serious fire in 2010, the sort that leaves pretty much just a smouldering shell behind. But now seven years later, it’s all back together and called TWID.
Inside it’s got the trademark mad interior, as if walking onto the slightly shabby set of an opera that went bust some years back. Boxes for diners line both sides, the upper ones reached by rather rickety staircases. I was used to this crazy scene from Little Bay in Croydon, but P wasn’t and her jaw dropped.
On a stage by the door, a man was singing opera accompanied by a pianist. Surreal in so many ways, but then That’s The Way Peter Ilic Does Things. This is a restaurant/bar with live opera.
Now obviously, you should know there will be opera before you book. A couple in a booth across the way had just wandered in on spec and seemed unhappy at the outbreak of arias all around. Those of us forewarned simply read the menu and tried to refrain from singing along.
This was made a bit harder by my downing of a poky cocktail, one of six on offer and all £7 each. The Santiago was two Rums – one spiced, one dark – mixed together with Red Vermouth and Campari. As bittersweet as a decent romcom and a palate sharpener of powerful effect.
The menu at TWID is not conventional starters and mains, but small plates for sharing. Recommended are six plates for two people, out of a menu choice of twelve. Thirteen if you count the steak option.
I would have liked more time to choose, and to hum along to the opera, but the wait staff kept clambering up the stairs to ask if we were ready and I felt a bit sorry for them. Plus I’m not the sort of person who takes pleasure in being snappy with the waitstaff, as one nameless national reviewer always seems to want to do.
So we ordered, had about two sips of the cocktails, played spot the song (theme from Godfather) and then the waitress appeared on deck bearing two plates. Soon the table was full of dishes and I was gulping the cocktail to clear away for wine.
The food looked good and was highly edible. Using only a few ingredients per dish, but cooking those spot on, chef shows skill that used to be in every French Bistro when I was first going there in the eighties, but now is largely long gone.
Duck breast with pickled cauliflower, apples and raisins, had the meat seared on the outside and rose in the centre. The crunch of the cauliflower and its acidity were perfect with the apple and raisins. Crab with apple, fennel and basil was sea-fresh and exhilarating, the sweet meat loving the aniseed of the fennel and the tart apple.
A piece of cod came dressed with gorgeous golden, crispy skin and was as firm as a turbot; I don’t know how chef did that but I liked it, while accompanying slivers of Jerusalem artichoke were both firm and creamy. It’s the devil of a vegetable for the digestion, but I could forgive it on this occasion as it partnered the fish so well.
Reaching across the large table I grabbed venison medallions on a tangle of savoy cabbage moist with port and tangy with Gruyere. It was another master class in cooking meat, this venison was absolutely perfect, and these low fat meats are not easy to get right.
Vegetarians are not forgotten so we also had kimchi and kale, fiery hot (and best eaten last), and a quinoa stuffed mushroom with ‘Superfood Salad’, pine nuts and basil. Not my favourite dish, but nonetheless a good effort.
The dessert menu showed another quirk. The cliché that all Eastern Europeans are avid meat eaters, who scorn soft Westerners and their eating habits born of always having plenty of choice, was laid to rest. Ilic is rather into ‘raw’ foods, and so as well as the more usual desserts he offers home-made raw vegan organic dairy-free desserts.
Well we tried a sharing selection, strawberry cheesecake, chocolate cake, carrot cake and mango cheesecake. They looked pretty and tasted pretty good, although I feel these kind of hair-shirt desserts are always a bit of an acquired taste. On the definite plus side they left us both feeling strangely energised.
So, as the not so fat lady sang, we descended the stairs well happy. Excellent food that would go down a storm in any East London hipster restaurant, but at half the price.
And the opera? The decor? Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. It saves having to make conversation and it really is rather good fun.