When it comes to London’s gourmet dining hubs, South Woodford is probably not going to be the first place to roll off your tongue. That might change if Ben Murphy has anything to do with it though, as the former Young National Chef of the Year is bringing some fine dining to the Essex borderlands in new venture The Woodford.
Based on the former site of old dive The White Hart, there’s little evidence left of the building’s grubby history, as glitz and glamour dominate now. Just as Woodford finds itself in the hinterlands between east London and Essex, so The Woodford finds its décor balanced precariously betwixt the two. None-more-trendy exposed lightbulbs hang low from the ceiling, but the effect is somewhat diminished by the gaudy rose-coloured mirror covering the entire end wall.
If the aesthetic seems to be suffering from a conflict of interests, the food is more sure of itself. Pigeon breast is served in a bell jar, billowing smoke as it reaches the table, a confit egg yolk straddling some impossible line between solid and liquid, belying expectations merely by holding its shape. Seared scallops are elevated by a dusting of smoked beer and treacle pancetta, though rich hunks of the meat certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Lamb comes prepared three ways (confit, braised, roasted), each threatening to melt where it stands. It’s served alongside a single slice of aubergine. We don’t know what unholy things they did to this in the kitchen, but they worked. We’d eat plates of the stuff. A chocolate jus gets slightly lost on rounds of perfectly pink venison, but by this point we’re too satisfied to care.
As is too often the case, dessert is the only stumbling block. A selection of ‘textures of chocolate’ do little to differentiate themselves, with the exception of an exquisite meld of the gooey brown stuff with delicate, floral lavender, cutting through the rich heaviness of the rest of the plate. One dish, cryptically described as ‘lemon, thyme & rosemary’ proves to be a humble lemon meringue tart – enjoyable, but more pedestrian than its mysterious title suggests.
Prices aren’t exactly keen, especially for the area – mains settle around £25 – and it’s hard to see The Woodford dragging many punters out from the city. Those already out to the east might find it an easier proposition than a trip to its Mayfair equivalents though, and 25-year-old Murphy is clearly capable of matching them in the kitchen.
Words by Dominic Preston