The Builders Arms Restaurant
by Mike Fairbrass - Monday September 23, 2019 12:09 pm
13 Britten Street, Chelsea, London, SW3 3TY www.thebuildersarmschelsea.co.uk
Mike wants to go to Chelsea and with the new refurb of The Builders Arms now over and the kitchen firing on all cylinders this seems the perfect time.
The Builders Arms is an archetypal attractive London pubs. On a corner tucked away north of the Kings Road near Chelsea Town Hall, it looks like a solid prospect as we approach. People spill out front into the balmy evening full of chatter and drinking.
We squeeze through the crowded bar towards the painted word “Food” above an arch. We cross this threshold into the space beyond to find ourselves suddenly alone in a manicured and interior designed space.
Vacant banquette seating with muted vertical stripes flank the walls and a library shelf encroaches into the room at 90 degrees with probably fake books. It is only 7pm so hopefully it will fill up.
Manager Michael’s greeting is warm and friendly. He reassures us they have been busy since the refurb three weeks ago. He seats us and guides us through the specials of the day:.
Whole Seabass with green chili, black olives, Cornish potatoes and watercress, or pan-roasted Haunch of Venison with salsify chips, pumpkin ketchup and toasted seeds, or Braised Shoulder of Welsh Lamb with butter beans and ‘nduja’ chili.
Not an easy choice as it all sounds great, but first we have to decide on starters.
As we scan the options, water is brought to table and we fill our glasses. Jayne’s been coveting a Negroni so we get that ordered too.
Pickled mackerel fillet, prosciutto and figs, organic squash, gorgonzola and pomegranate salad all sound good, but I find myself torn between fish soup with croutons and rouille, and crispy pig’s head with piccalilli, just for the novelty of it.
I know it won’t be a whole pig's head shimmering from the deep fryer, but I like the image so order it, with that Lamb special to follow.
Jayne chooses salt baked tiger prawns with garlic butter and the seabass, as she is almost always swayed by the prospect of a whole fish to dig into.
As I dip into the wine menu Jayne comments: “It looks like a large mine wenu”, proving her Negroni is taking affect. Michael returns with his recommendation of an Arienzo de Marques de Riscal Rioja 2016 and I’m not going to argue with him or the Marques de Riscal so that’s the one.
It has a real actual cork which is swiftly removed and fresh glasses are brought. The wine is delicious. With wine glasses used for water, i’s getting crowded on our table and neighbouring tables begin to fill up too.
The crispy surface gives way to soft pieces of delicate flesh within. It’s very tasty indeed and set off perfectly by the homemade piccalilli with crunchy cauliflower florets.
A bite of one of Jayne’s sizable prawns revealst it actually tastes of prawn, which is something of a rarity these days.
I ask Michael about the interior and he says it was designed by somebody called Joe (or perhaps Jo?).
The quirky pineapple shaped wall lights and I note other references to fruit, so I ask if the pub, or the site upon which it sits, had some connection to the tropical fruit trade. Michael’s look is blank so I guess Joe or Jo just chose pineapples as a nice shape.
The whole seabass is visually impressive, dressed beautifully and laid out on an attractive wooden plank. The Chinese puzzle of our table is rearranged to accommodate it and my lamb is squeezed in.
I can tell by it’s glossy look that it’s going to be good. We are not disappointed, Jayne is skeletonizing her fish and loving its chilli zing.
My dish has rich succulent meat, falling apart at the merest nudge of my cutlery and the butter beans are great in support, soaking up the meat juices infused with the the soft fiery bright red Nduja salumi from South Italy. A corker of a dish.
By the end we are both replete, with no room for burnt gooseberry custard tart, sticky greengage upside down cake or frozen dark chocolate & blueberries, anise, smoked crème fraiche.
Frankly, I’d like to try anything chef Tom McVay cooks here. Other mains include a chilli crab, linguini or more pubbish fare of a plant based burger or beer battered wild halibut.
If asked my preference for the balance between cuisene and ambiance, I’d much rather have a great dish in an uninspiring room – and the interior here is fine, just obviously ‘interior designed’ and so doesn’t sit with the more authentic pub décor.
However, what’s important is the food, and it was several steps above a usual gastro-pub. The service was lovely (and the company of course).
It’s time to wander back to Sloane Square and our journey home. Visiting the loo before we leave, my eyes are hit with photo real orange segment wallpaper plastered all over the stairs.
It’s In keeping with the fruit theme, but I’m not sure if it was there before the refit, or a quirky addition to the design.
As we walk through the back roads of Chelsea we snoop through the windows of the well-heeled residents into their swanky basement kitchens, opulent living rooms and libraries full of art.
Now I know what happened, clearly, they all use Joe/Jo for their interiors around here.