We didn't of course pick The Malt House at random, and living East as we do, Fulham is a bit of a journey, but there's a very good reason to make the journey to the The Malt House if you like food. Two good reasons in fact. The first is that the pub is owned by Claude Bosi, holder of two Michelin stars at Hibiscus, and believe it or not, on the day of our visit, Claude was actually there. With Claude's brother Cedric managing the pub, this is an important, even if less high profile, part of Claude's business portfolio. The pub's website even suggests the kitchen shares the same suppliers as Hibiscus so the focus on quality remains.
The second reason making it worth visiting, reinforcing the idea of importance of The Malt House to Claude, is that the Head Chef there is Marcus McGuinness, formerly of Hibiscus (Head Chef) where he had been since 2006. Prior to that, Marcus was sous chef at another of our favourite restaurants, Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham. With a CV like this, he is possibly then the most hard core talented chef in a pub kitchen in London today. Accordingly, we've eaten Marcus's food before and we know he's a major talent.
Menu wise, Marcus walks a fine balance between fully utilising his cooking skills and staying grounded within the theme of pub food. So yes, you will still be able to get pub classics like fish & chips and mushy peas, a beef burger or steak and chips. But then also there are some rare find items such as 'Dorset smoked mutton' which is on the menu as a 'nibble'. Believing that mutton is too often overlooked on menus in the UK, we felt compelled to try this and it really was very good indeed; it's so nice to see now that domestic cured meats are becoming more prominent as the concept of 'British food' really starts to mean something.
On to our 'real' starters and it's spicy watermelon and cucumber gazpacho, a great summer dish with great flavours and textures from not only the diced cucumber and watermelon, but dehydrated watermelon also. It's those little extras, the subtle hints of technique and cleverness that bring a touch more to each dish and lift it above what other, even very competent pubs (and restaurants) can offer. The potted shrimp is another classic but also done to please, a deceptively large portion and with moreish toasted sourdough and a squeeze of lemon that provides a happily satisfying dish.
Mains are rich affairs and Marcus's classic French background means I hardly want to know how much butter and cream we must have got through that day. The pan fried bream with new season girolles and peach seemed the perfect summer dish to order and here at The Malt House you have no need to worry that the fish will be cooked anything other than perfect. The girolles were similarly lovely and the sauce rich and creamy, but that little touch of magic again, here, the inclusion of diced peach with the girolles that provides in almost every mouthful additional freshness saving it all from becoming too rich. Orzo pasta with confit Datterino tomato, goats cheese and green olive provides a similarly large, rich main that provides a less common vegetarian (or simply pasta loving) alternative to a big chunk of protein on a hot summer's day.
The desserts decision is easy, malted vanilla ice cream and salted caramel, and English strawberries, frozen cheesecake. Given how full we were, both desserts did a pretty reasonable disappearing act despite both of them also being quite large.
The Malt House only opened in January of this year so is still a reasonably new affair and joins sister pub the Fox and Grapes in Wimbledon under Claude's ownership. Despie this food influence, The Malt House very much remains a pub for drinking in also. Even with the food, despite Marcus's ultimate CV, he's very down to earth and on Thursdays and Sundays for example, they offer a BBQ menu done on a Big Green Egg in the beer garden, and despite having just eaten, that kind of made us wish we were staying for the evening also.
There's a handful of pubs in London with a strong food offering, but it does feel like only a handful. The Malt House is a worthy and welcome addition to that list.
Marcus is one of the chefs cooking at EatPlayLove2013, a day of food, music and cabaret to raise money for London's homeless and disadvantaged. Click through the link for more details.