With fresh produce at the heart, Jesse Dunford Wood is guiding the trendy residents of London’s Kensal Rise and fans further afield to a virtual veggie existence, where the foliage is king. Produce Business UK talks to the culinary force behind restaurant Parlour
Becoming something of a destination restaurant, Parlour is bringing all kinds of diners, and even some celebrities, to the edgy, yet community-spirited northwest London nook that is Kensal Rise. Set in a regenerated old English boozer with its original façade, the restaurant can cater for 200 covers a day in its laidback bar area and patio garden, relaxed but rustic formal dining area, and tucked-away circular kitchen-facing chef’s table booth.
Something of a big name in chef circles, Time Out award-winning Dunford Wood trained in classic French cookery under two Michelin stars chef Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park Hotel, has worked with big names in French-Japanese fusion cuisine in Australia, in New York and Chicago, and has even done a stint in Michel Roux Jnr’s Le Gavroche. Owner of Parlour since 2013, Dunford Wood does things his way and just wanted people to think of the all-day bar and dining room “as a meeting place that serves great food and drink”. This was a great opportunity; I’m now free enough to go with flow and I couldn’t be happier with the location, space and what we do everyday,” says possibly the most contented chef in Great Britain.
And great food and drink is definitely on the cards for this lucky neighbourhood. When I walked into the bright bar-come-reception area, the first thing I saw (and promptly ‘Instagrammed’) were huge Kilner-style jars of various preserved fruit and vegetables, and the most interesting, Buddha’s hand, which I later was told was ‘Buddha-cello’ in the making. And despite all the big names on his CV and his measured countenance, Dunford Wood has fun with food. His dishes are inviting, creative and lively – and interesting fruit and vegetables are the magic trick up his sleeve.
Treats and trends
Voted into the top 50 best gastro pubs, Parlour has a concise but eclectic menu that sits quite nicely on a single A5 page, with bar snacks such as ‘Blue cheese custard with lots of bits to dip’, which is a mixture of any kind of “funky veg” that takes Dunford Wood’s fancy that week (tiny root vegetable, crosne was in the mix the day I visited), and starters/mains such as ‘Raw vegetable ravioli’ (£7/£13.50), and a weekly ‘seasonal supper’ with two options for each course (two courses £18, three £21 and four £25).
“We are funky British,” states Dunford Wood, who obviously relishes in the freedom of being able to change the menu regularly according to seasons and niche products. “British food is not traditionally thought of as colourful, fun or delicious, but that is exactly what we offer. Our food development pivots on ingredients that are slightly different and interesting,” he says.
Listing rainbow radishes, rehydrated basil seeds, chestnut hummus, salt-baked turnip, white sprouting broccoli and Muscat grapes, the spring menu is a journey through the who’s who of fresh produce. As well as a vegetable wholesaler, Parlour also works with a northwest London set-up of small producers, the Organic Vegetable Buy Scheme, using its produce weekly in the restaurant menu and providing a pick-up point for locals in the box scheme.
“We change the menu weekly,” Dunford Wood tells me, pointing out that the place where we sit, by the main door of the building, is the best place to see all the different produce coming in from various small producers. “It’s good to know what’s available and how growing patterns are going, and it’s good to find out what the latest trends are from your suppliers.” He points out a large basket of different sized duck, hen, quail, pheasant and turkey eggs on display in front of us. “My fruit and vegetable supplier brought a selection of these in for me to try one day – the pheasant eggs are a great bar snack, covered in celery salt and dipped in mayo.”
That special relationship
Working very closely with New Covent Garden Market wholesaler First Choice’s Vernon Mascarenhas, who he has known for 10 years, Dunford Wood relies on Mascarenhas coming by with interesting additions. Mascarenhas even recently took him to new venture on the Isle of Dogs, Grown Up Urban Farms. “I got to know Vernon just through our shared love of amazing produce and talking about it,” Dunford Wood, who has an eight-chef team at Parlour, explains. “It’s good to connect with your supplier and the producers behind them – it’s beneficial for all parts of the supply chain, including my customers.
“Just having producers pitch up to bring orders and tell a tale or two is an education for chefs, but seeing the farms and facilities is crucial to understanding the food you cook and the menus you create. Grown Up Urban Farms was incredible – they are producing baby kale and micro herbs in London in a warehouse with LED and water filtered by fish, which they also sell. It’s really important for chefs to understand food; they need to know how come you can’t get kale shoots – because it’s a living thing. We need a sense of reality and to know where things actually come from. Chefs can lose sight of the supply chain if they are not helped by honest suppliers.”
Jesse Dunford Wood’s pork chop with tomato salad
What? Unapologetically British and full of interesting bits of décor and old pub-style charm, Parlour is great for a drink in the garden on a summer’s day or a four-course meal in the main restaurant room. They regularly put on summer clubs and foodie events, and the place is generally bustling and a popular hangout in the area, especially for the Saturday brunch menu.
Where? 5 Regent Street, Kensal Green, London, NW10 5LG
Why? The raw vegetable ravioli is earthy goat’s cheese sandwiched between slightly pickled slivers of raw root vegetables, changing by the season, with edible flowers and herbs and a fruit dressing. Fresh, palate livening and inventive, it’s a good example of the spread you can order here.
When? 10am until midnight, Tuesday to Sunday. Booking recommended for the chef’s table.
Jesse Dunford Wood will be cooking up a storm during the chef demonstrations at The London Produce Show and Conference 2016 June 8-10.
Register here to reserve your place.