Bread as a matter of course

RESTAURANT

GAIL’S KITCHEN
11-13 Bayley Street, Bedford Square, WC1B 3HD Tel: 020 7323 9694

FOOD ***
SERVICE ****
ATMOSPHERE ****

Cost for two with wine: £65

GAIL’S Bakery, the well-known artisan chain, is the brainchild of Tom Molnar and Ran Avidan. Their focus has always been on producing traditional handmade-quality bread and this mantra has been transported into the duo’s latest venture, their first restaurant, which sits adjacent to their Bloomsbury bakery.

Décor wise, it doesn’t differ too far from the bakery. It’s minimalist, so think exposed wooden tables and neutral coloured walls. While the result is slightly Scandinavian, it’s not chilly. It’s actually rather cosy – the perfect place to catch up with friends for a mid-week meal or to escape the crowds on Oxford Street on the weekend. At the same time, this helps the restaurant feel a bit like an upscale Zizzi rather than a destination for a big night out. It would probably have been better placed in somewhere like Chelsea or Blackheath than Bloomsbury.

Like so many restaurants nowadays, the menu is comprised of small plates. There seems to be bread with almost everything – this is not the restaurant for anyone watching their carb intake in January or cutting out grains on the paleo diet. But in terms of the quality of the dishes, Gail’s Kitchen on the whole delivers. At its best, as with the cakes in its popular bakeries, it elevates humdrum ingredients into something memorable.

I started with baked red mullet with paprika, tomato and spinach, served, inevitably, on a piece of toast. The mullet was soft, delicate and perfectly seasoned. Next up was a dish of smoked prawns with caramelised garlic bread. It looked basic but the crisp, rich crumb contrasted well to the punchy flavours of the seafood. It was followed by pizza bianca with violet artichokes, parma ham and burrata (not, in fact, another type of bread but a special creamy cheese). I topped it all off with a delicious steak sandwich, served with fresh horseradish.

As you’ll have gathered, on this menu, bread is not what you get while you wait for your meal – bread is your meal, with plenty of bread served on the side. Now there’s no denying that Gail’s has mastered the art of a good loaf and you can’t blame the restaurant for trying to show that off. The downside is that you quickly feel bloated and uninspired to explore the menu in more depth. It also detracts from the other high quality ingredients, a great shame.

Aside from being too heavy, the small plates were good. My pudding, however, proved to be a crime against flour. Somehow I managed to find space for the rum baba, served with a winter fruit compote and cream. I was expecting it to be rich but not sickeningly sweet, so much so that my guest and I had to drain its syrup against the bowl to be able to eat it.

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says if you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily. Gail’s Kitchen should meditate on that. One calamitous dessert aside, if the restaurant is going to be half as successful as the bakery, it is going to have to allow its dishes to move beyond a thousand-and-one elaborations on the humble slice of bread – that is, if they know what side their toast is buttered on.