Some eating places lurk in my diary for weeks, instilling delicate nervousness quite than joyful anticipation. Fiend was one such instance. It started with the identify, which doesn’t whisper equanimity, dreaminess or deliciousness. Fiend, to my thoughts, is a demonic, probably inexperienced, gnome-like being, ready in a darkish alley on behalf of Devil himself. You’d should be a particular form of chef to arrange a quite darkish, unusual restaurant on Portobello Highway and name your self Fiend.
Chris Denney is that individual. A shufti by the interviews the chef gave about his earlier enterprise, the cult hit 108 Storage, brings up some refreshingly unfiltered quotes. “He speaks as he finds,” as my previous gran would say. Fiend’s web site merely underlines the concept one is about to be ambushed. This, I learn, might be a “provocative, rebellious and impressed” night of consuming “kurobuta stomach with eel glaze and rock samphire” or “diver scallop with yellow sauce and kent mango” or different sentences ringing with Ks and Zs that sit on the menu like barbed wire, not even trying to sound scrumptious however, quite, intriguing.
Fiend is “vibrant, bohemian” and within the “epicentre” of Portobello. The phrase bohemian used at the side of eating places at all times raises alarms, as I envisage a Helena Bonham Carter sort smoking in a room that smells of stale orchids and cat piss. Nevertheless, at Fiend one can take bohemian to imply that diners ought to put together to be relaxed, groovy and open to something, or, when you’re over 35, capable of faux “groovy” briefly, ebullient bursts, whereas rearranging your bifocals to learn the menu in a room that’s darker than Margate Shell Grotto. I imply, actually: Fiend’s partitions are black. Like when Adrian Mole painted over his Noddy wallpaper. And into this blackness seems the restaurant supervisor, who is completely pretty and really enthusiastic, whereas additionally resembling a Tim Burton character who could be deeply into A Flock of Seagulls.
If you’re already exhausted by the jiffy you might have spent perusing this overview, could I inform you I spent three hours there, waving my cellphone torch about whereas saying, “I believe this says lamb coronary heart agnolotti with mustard dashi? However does that actually make sense? It appears like one thing Louis Cyphre ate in Angel Coronary heart.” The reply is sure: it was a aromatic bowl of innards in broth with a smattering of pasta, extra like a Japanese tackle pierogi. A tasting menu is offered, however my visitor Hugh and I selected à la carte. Wafery slivers of shiny wagyu salami appeared, adopted by heat brioche and rooster liver parfait. For me, the star of Fiend’s present is a slice of salt-baked celeriac, probably probably the most scrumptious factor I’ve eaten this 12 months, coated in a weird, earthy, addictive concoction that Denney calls “mushroom pistachio granola” and completed with hollandaise.
Parts are small, carbs and heft are skinny on the bottom. Cured sea trout, for instance, is a delicate, melting bowl of pink fish, goat’s yoghurt, puffed rice, horseradish and uncooked apple. A single, closely titivated burnt leek is suffering from chewy black radish and a gochujang dressing. Palate cleansers of cucumber sorbet with dill are curiously life-changing. A principal dish of venison with prune is gothic within the excessive, all of the extra so for consuming it in a chic west London bat cave.
From the dessert menu, we selected the rum savarin with coconut and pineapple. This can be a perilously boozy piña colada rum baba – which I’ve by no means seen served within the UK earlier than. An extra scoop of wealthy, textured black cherry sorbet was additionally excellent.
I’m not satisfied that Fiend is the perfect setting for Denney to ship this odd, assured, experimental and undoubtedly scrumptious menu. Clearly, he’s a passionate character, and this menu of his harebrained schemes gone proper could be extra suited to a bijou chef’s table-style enterprise of 10 or 12 seats, the place he may discuss and show all of the madcap methods and processes. As a substitute, Fiend is a spacious, two-floor venue with an open kitchen located removed from the diners. There’s a massive cocktail bar downstairs, presently out of motion. The doorway to the restaurant has an extended bar with seats, which on the night we visited completely no one was utilizing.
Nevertheless, I do know that Denney is a large expertise, and his crew are among the nation’s finest. I left Fiend oddly hungry however stuffed to the brim with concepts. The menu was intelligent, centered, deliciously erratic and ever so barely bewildering. Fiend appears like being hijacked by a nefarious presence. The extra I take into consideration Denney’s cooking, the extra it feels completely becoming.