86 Fulham Road, SW3 6HR
Tel: 020 7052 9620
Cost per person without wine: £40
Coming up with a name for a restaurant must be a difficult thing. Do you go for something sexy and exotic, a chic bit of Euro-cuisine jargon, something abstract and opaque, or hope that you have a surname that sounds suitably restauranty? No wonder people sometimes find it easier to plump boringly for the address. Great Queen Street, 1 Lombard, and 101 Pimlico Road spring to mind.
Eighty-Six, which sits at 86 Fulham Road (at the Kensington/Chelsea end), is the latest on the list. It’s an admirable attempt to inject a bit of pizzazz into an area of West London that’s rather more of a wasteland for high-quality restaurants and bars than it should be.
Unless you fancy the brazenly upper crust nightspots of the King’s Road (or drinking Bolly with Prince Harry at Boujis in South Ken), there’s not a lot that’s going to drag people across town, and while Eighty-Six won’t change that, it does offer locals an alternative that’s smart without being too brash.
It occupies a grand wedding cake of a building: a large, whitewashed Georgian townhouse across the road from the Royal Marsden. On the ground floor is a spacious, smartly-designed bar with darkwood paneling and luxurious, blue-tinged furniture, plus some cosy booths and an elegant back room. One can imagine it getting pretty lively at the weekends (it’s open until 12.30am) and there’s a good line in cocktails.
The restaurant’s upstairs, encircling a mezzanine balcony above the bar. You can reach it by a showy glass elevator if you want, while having a little sigh at the lengths businesses must go to to meet accessibility laws these days (I imagine).
While downstairs the look is rather debonair, upstairs it’s all a bit more showy. There’s a lot of gold, in the gaudy frames around mirrors that hang from the ceiling and in the wall panelling, while the see-through chairs and some dodgy artworks left me a bit cold.
It’s a jolly enough environment though, particularly when it fills up a bit. The menu, put together by ex-Bluebird chef Mark Broadbent, is of the Modern British variety, including meat dishes that come with a postcode.
With 13 mains, it’s too extensive a menu for my liking. Mains are divided into sigh-inducing sections like “Earth, ground & turf” (vegetarian dishes, with optional truffle additions), “Beast of the week” (steaks), “water, ebb & flow” (fish) and “land, beast & bird” (you can probably work that one out). There are pies too.
Even desserts are divided into “skinny minis” and “proper puds”. It’s like a Word document with an overabundance subsections and bullet points, and too much to wade through at the start of a meal.
Starters were good. Scallop carpaccio with radish, bergamot and orange oil was smooth and citrusy, with a bit of crunch added from a fashionable sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. A fillet of smoked eel was perfectly accompanied by a cube of beetroot jelly, but somewhat overpowered by large, brittle rashers of dry bacon, and horseradish paste only complicated things.
A chunky casserole dish contained a beautiful lamb hotpot (postcode AB37 9JQ for the lamb, in case you wondered) – acres of silky juice containing soft, pink portions of meat, topped off by a potato gratin. We appreciated the cones of pickled beetroot alongside it.
However, my Tournedos Rossini was not a success. It’s a strange but (done properly) wonderful dish – beef filet with fried foie gras, black truffle shavings and a Madeira sauce, served on a crisp crouton.
The Eighty-Six version has the foie gras – or rather, a cold, snotty mulch that might once have had something to do with foie gras – smeared on the crouton, with a dusting of a tasteless powder that might once have had something to do with black truffle but didn’t anymore. There was a pretty ziggurat cone of mashed potato next to it, but it was stone cold – a warm dollop would have been preferable.
The “skinny minis” may suggest puddings that are smaller and lighter, and therefore good for a New Year diet, but a little chocolate pot with crème fraiche and shortbread was so rich it could have bought a premiership football team.
A middling experience, but Eighty-Six has the potential to establish itself as a buzzy place in the area.