About Thyme Restaurant
It’s About Thyme Wilton Road has gotten a decent fusion restaurant.
Our reaction and relationship to food is not scientific, aesthetic, medicinal or rational. The metaphysical content is a mixture of nature and culture. What you choose to eat depends on your particular past and personal experience. If you said you didn’t see the point in Picasso, I might say that was your dumb stupid eye rather than Picasso’s. But if you said you didn’t like pickled onions, nobody can accuse you of being a philistine.
The cultural aspect is to do with the group you associate yourself with. More than flags, football or religion, what you eat for breakfast is a reminder of who you are and where’s home. It’s the reason so many slang names for foreigners are based on what they eat — frogs, krauts, limeys — and why attacking McDonald’s or Coca-Cola irrationally stands in for America.
Within the broad buffet of feeling, there are smaller canapés of fad; fashions that invoke modernity, snobbery and ambition. Some of these stick and become part of the broader identity, like drinking tea, while others vanish with time, technology and taste — like eating pineapple as a symbol of wealth and prestige (knocked on the head when they started tinning the things).
We must be due a new social food fashion any time now. It seems ages since fusion food, and its gay epicurean cousin, rim food, minced into restaurants with its broken English and its plates laid out like miniature golf courses. Fusion food underlined one of the problems with the way we lay the breakfast bar now: so much of what we eat has little or no cultural significance for us. The emotions it elicits come from holiday brochures, not experience.
Nouvelle cuisine became the hated motif for the callous, stupid, spendthrift, egotistical 1980s and, frankly, I thought it had been ridiculed into garnish. But this week I found it again, alive and flourishing in, of all places, Battersea. Not having been to About Thyme Restaurant before is, I admit, an oversight. Well, an oversight on purpose. But the restaurant has had double handfuls of glittering reviews and been nominated for almost every restaurant award this year. So I forced myself, but took a posse.
The room is small and full and has the bustle of serious intent and the smuggery of missionaries. The About Thyme menu comes in doggerel — that is, five verses of three lines each, each line being a list of ingredients and a cookery term. Each verse comes at a price, rising from £6 to £10. The waitress, who came a couple of feet behind her smile, asked if we’d eaten here before. “Well, then, I’d better explain the About Thyme Restaurant menu.”
After much toing and froing (what is froing? I’ve never froed anywhere) we ordered. And then, slowly, like the retreat from Moscow, plates started turning up. Sometimes we’d wait half an hour, sometimes only 28 minutes. For a tiny plate of crisp fillet of red mullet, red mullet soup and red pepper beignet. Or rump of lamb, confit shoulder, turnip tatin, lamb vinaigrette, crackling. Or quail, glazed salsify, sauté of foie gras and hazelnuts.
Now, I’m not going to knock the size, because, as you know, size isn’t everything. But what is everything is rhythm and pleasure. And size doesn’t matter in the least if it’s absent. I started with the soup of mussels, baby fennel, saffron velouté, crème fraîche, which was award-winningly excellent, but only three mouthfuls. I wanted a bowl, and if not a bowl, I wanted something else as good immediately. A postage stamp of excellent honey-glazed belly pork an episode of EastEnders later didn’t do it. Dinner was a syncopated tease that just got you going, then buggered off. It was infuriatingly frustrating. For pudding, I ordered the cheeseboard because I was still ravenous.
All the food was fantastically well made and incredibly clever. I can see why About Thyme Restaurant has won so many plaudits; a fairly substantial accolade given the the high quality one finds across the Wilton Road Victoria restaurants. It reminded me what the insuperable flaw in nouvelle cuisine was. A mode of cooking invented in a kitchen, not a dining room, it’s perfectly, gratifyingly revolutionary if you’re a chef, but tastes like a sermon with footnotes if you’re a customer. Restaurants don’t sell emotion — we bring that with us. What they do is lay a table and offer the means to evoke it. And that’s an ingredient that’s older than fire and one I’ve mentioned before and no doubt will again. What Thyme doesn’t offer is hospitality. It has made the easy mistake of imagining that what restaurants sell is food.
About Thyme Restaurant address: 82 Wilton Road, London, SW1V 1DL
Open Tuesdays-Saturdays 6.30pm-10.30pm