17 Vanston Pl, Fulham, London SW6 1AY www.malthousefulham.co.uk
I remember coming with my uncle, a dedicated football fan, to what’s now the Malt House back in 1972. It was a popular pub pre-match and I sat outside (in those days children were not allowed to run riot in pubs) and while fighting off pederasts, sucked on my Pepsi and munched my cheese and onion crisps while uncle downed a few pints of beer inside. Then preceded by a gust of pub air – a heady blend of best bitter, Embassy Regal and urinal cake – he took me to the game.
Back then the area was a lot less posh of course; in fact it was almost a London suburb. Soon afterwards men who went in for rugby shirts as casual dress and wives in publishing, took over and while there are still pockets of poverty around, check out the flammable tracksuits and gangrenous hoop earrings down the Broadway, it’s generally gentrified.
What my uncle would make of the Malt House now is hard to imagine. It is still technically a pub, but it’s not one where you’d hang around the bar pre-match unless on your way to a corporate box. Tables and eating are the real deal here and the chef is a proper restaurant chef, not a burger slinger. Every bit of wood in the place has been painted cream and the niff of Farrow & Ball is still slightly in the air.
Claude Bosi, he of Hibiscus fame and some infamy, has done to this pub what he and brother Cedric did to the Fox & Grapes in Wimbledon, which is to rather throw the baby out with the bathwater design-wise. It seems a shame to swiftly paint over a patina built up over centuries. but then they’re French. All they probably saw was a smelly old pub with a sticky carpet, not years of glorious British history and hooliganism.
But what of the food? Chef Marcus McGuinness has come over from Bosi’s 2 star Hibiscus and the menu occupies the ground between fine dining and what we used to call gastro-pub. Thus a bowl of plump, sea-fresh mussels semi-submerged in an oil-slicked broth was delicately flavoured with wild garlic and teensy-tiny pieces of smoked bacon. One mussel was refusing to grin, so I stuck it on the subs bench, but the rest were perfect and the broth a good reboot of a bistro classic.
J’s curried root vegetable soup arrived as mirepoix cubes, before the waiter poured over the soup in fine-dining stylee. This might have been labelled a puree as it was almost thick enough to stand the crusty bread up in. J liked the fact that the spicing was only in the vegetables so that the soup was a contrast in texture and taste and sparkled with bursts of lime set against honey
My main of roast Cornish cod with celeriac and lovage came in another broth, making it rather too similar to my starter. This could have been mentioned on the menu as you can only drink so much broth. That caveat aside the fish was gorgeous – sweet chunks, bone-free, generous in quantity and cooked properly so that it languidly slid apart down its fault lines when prodded. Celeriac cubes brought in the unique flavour of the world’s ugliest root vegetable; you could imagine it threatening Doctor Who, while the lovage, also a celery flavour, added tonal value and specks of colour.
Through the serving window I’d earlier watched the disembodied mid-parts of tattooed chefs slice pork belly from a larger piece, presumably sous-vided, and take it off to be finished. It now arrived glistening with crackling and with a puddle of roasting juices and apple puree lapping at its sides.
J’s first attempt at cutting through the crackling resulted in a noise like a rifle shot, closely followed by the sound of pork fat ricocheting off a far wall. He turned it upside down and found it a lot easier to deal with. Plenty of flavour -packed meat from a happy pig and we shared al dente seasonal purple broccoli plus some triple cooked chips, decently crispy but slightly oddly-flavoured.
And so to pud. A malted vanilla ice cream the shape and almost the size of a rugby ball, with ever so on trend salted caramel, for J, and an excellent forced rhubarb Eton mess for me. This was the best mess I’d had for ages, the tart/sweet rhubarb really shining through against gooey- crispy meringue.
Times change and pubs are dying. Conversion into the sort of place the Bosis have created seems the only way to avoid demolition or conversion into flats. J’s set lunch cost £19.50 and my a la carte, around £30, both easy to digest prices for above average cooking that could easily make this a regular haunt for locals. All in all quite a result for Fulham and clearly premier league stuff.