Peter Morrell finds something of a culinary nirvana tucked away on the edge of one of south London’s more fashionable districts
I was recently at the first ever live announcement of the Michelin awards and became an early recipient of The Michelin Guide 2017. Eagerly thumbing through the pages of the Guide back home I was looking for entries near my South London home, an area not ablaze with culinary hotspots, one that caught my eye and looked good was the Guildford Arms close to Greenwich.
I recently dined there and my hunch was more than proved correct. It was easy to see why the restaurant had made it into the 2017 Michelin Guide less than a year after it opened, I subsequently found out that it has also been recognised by both Hardens and the 2017 Good Food Guide.
Upstairs is located on the first floor of a charming converted Victorian pub, the décor is modern and there is some very stylish art on the walls. The ethos of Upstairs is the use of ingredients produced in Kent and South London. This became apparent as we sipped on locally brewed beer, nibbled home-cured wild boar and fennel salami with pickled chanterelle mushrooms and warm, home-made slow fermented bread as we looked at the menu.
Every dish is meticulously prepared so the menu is short, in fact brief enough for us to forget the diet for the evening and sample all the courses. We started with two appetisers from the ‘Garden of England’ section, my wife had the kale salad, truffled Ashmore cheese, from a maker in Canterbury, cepe and Kent cobnuts while I had the Walmestone red pepper with green tomato jelly and sunflower shoots. My wife’s salad was covered with truffle shavings which gave it a pungent quality and my red pepper was intriguingly complex, featuring pickling, a tempura batter and a sunflower seed cracker. We both agreed that this was cooking of the highest order with unique taste and texture combinations.
It was the turn of the ‘South Eastern Coast’ to provide the ingredients for the next course. I had mackerel with seaweed, horseradish and sea buckthorn and my wife ate the Rye Bay slip sole with brown butter, potato, pennypot cider and seashore leaves. The fish was sea fresh and the marine vegetables gave the dishes an uplifting ocean tang.
We move from coast to farm with Godmersham venison cooked in hay with beetroots, pickled elderberries and wild watercress and from the same source partridge with parsnips, sprout shoots and chanterelles. Game has a tendency to be dry and tough but this was cooked to perfection. It was moist and tender and the flavours had been retained in the meat. The sauce with the venison had the most profound taste as did the sweet heritage beets.
Next up was some Kent cheese from the same maker as the Ashmore starter, it had a fresh and mild flavour and was paired with crispbread.
We had reached the last course, dessert, and another two treats were in store. Bessborough Farm pear with potash walnuts and Greenwich honey, and chocolate, chestnuts and salted caramel, they were both indulgent and delicious and beautifully. presented
The wine list featured mainly organic and biodynamic bottles and as the food was extraordinary we went for unusual wines. For the early part of the meal we paired a glass a three grape blend white featuring Sauvignon Blanc, Feteasca Regala and Muscat 2014 from Avincis in Romania. It had a fruity nose with hints of melon in the mouth and the lively acidity left a fresh finish.
The latter courses we matched with a biodynamic wine, the Aroa garnacha tinto from Navarra in Spain. This medium bodied wine was a bright garnet colour, showing good cherry and strawberry aromas in the bouquet. On the palate there were tones of vanilla, leather and tobacco and the good balance between acid and tannin made the finish fruity and persistent.
After the meal I had a chat with head chef Simon Wills. Simon has an impressive CV and for the last 20 years has working alongside industry greats like the inspirational Nico Ladenis in London, Steve Harris at The Sportsman in Kent, and Patrick Jeffroy in France. In the early part of a typical week Simon can be found in Kent collecting the ingredients for the restaurant. He is on the look-out for locally grown, little known ingredients and many are sourced by foraging expert Miles Irving.
Simon is also something of a food historian and as well as using traditional plants and herbs employs old fashioned cooking techniques like roasting meat in hay.
As well as ‘Upstairs’ there is a more informal bar on the ground floor serving food that has had Simon’s culinary magic wand waved over it. Upstairs is open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday, there is a Sunday Lunch available and booking is now open for Christmas and New Year festive menus.
It is difficult to think of good enough superlatives to describe the dining experience at The Guildford Arms. As well as the charming service it was unique and unmissable voyage of discovery through the diverse food of the Kent coast and countryside. The quality of the food is excellent and it’s also great value, expect to pay £50 – £60 person including drinks. I will return.