Where sirloin steak is almost upstaged by a beef dumpling
At the risk of indulging in armchair GCSE-level psychology, Myrtle is one of those restaurants where elements of the personality and background of the chef are clearly evident. Starting with the obvious, there’s the Irish-accented menu – a surprisingly uncommon thing in London – created by Dublin scion Anna Haugh.
Then there’s the dining room itself, decked out in stylish aquamarine blue with plushly upholstered chairs and clothclad tables attended by booted and suited staff. That’d normally be all well and good, but the space is far too cramped to truly give this setup form – not when one’s elbows jut into wall moldings and you’re at risk of twerking your fellow diners when you shimmy past to use the bogs. If Haugh hasn’t always wanted a restaurant of her own designed to this very specific vision in her head – snug Chelsea digs be damned – then I’d be very surprised indeed.
At first glance the short menu appeared a tad gastropubby with smoked salmon, sirloin and a dark chocolate tart on offer. But as I sampled dish after dish, visit after visit, it soon became clear that Myrtle’s cooking is a world apart from that of many gastropubs and subtly yet distinctively different from many of its peers.
Starters at Myrtle
Myrtle’s black pudding roll could almost be mistaken for just another croquette at first glance, but this was no garden variety deep fried dish. The crisp and flaky coiled pastry held a tranche of moreishly meaty and tangy black pudding. Its relatively heavy qualities were neatly offset by the sharp, sweet apple and the cream, both of which helped cleanse the palate.
Smoked salmon was far less impressive, with the overly chilled fish wrapped around an equally frigid cream cheese. The best thing on this plate had to be the briney sweetness of the pickles paired with rich, quivering roe.
The oddly-named pigs croquette gave the croquettes from many Spanish restaurants a run for their money. The crisp, oil-free, tightly crumbed shell cradled an unctuously moreish and quivering tranche of pork. A halved quail’s egg, a sprightly relish and vinegary pickles weren’t really necessary, but were decent enough in their own right.
Main courses at Myrtle
Hake may be just a sustainable alternative to cod for most of us, but Myrtle shows that this fish can truly sing when given the right treatment. Cooked just so, the sticky, glossy flakes of hake were laced with moreishness courtesy of an umami sauce and briney mussels. It was made even better by the gently chewy and scrumptiously moreish oat crust. Combined with smooth and fluffy mash served on the side and you have a candidate for one of the best dishes of the year.
Glossy medallions of sirloin were perfectly even with no variation in their rich red hue or tenderness, perhaps helped along by their smallish diameter. Their gently sweet and nutty flavour was boosted by the sticky rich jus. While eminently enjoyable, the sirloin was almost upstaged by the boxty. A sort of filled pancake or dumpling, the crust was positively cheese-like in its smooth caramelised quasi-gooeyness. Slicing it open revealed rich sinewy strands of beef, peeking out seductively like a coy lover slowly unbuttoning their shirt. I was left panting for more.
The celeriac pithivier was a pie of two halves. The pastry was much like my first-ever lover: buttery, but ultimately far too soft and flaccid to perform. It certainly pales into comparison next to the more texturally satisfying pastry shells found at the Holborn Dining Room. The filling, on the other hand, was a completely different matter. The firm yet yielding core of celeriac had its distinctive sharp sweetness mellowed by a layer of minced mushrooms, its earthiness neatly enhanced by the mushroom cream poured all over this pie. Wrap this light yet satisfying filling in a more accomplished pastry and you’d have a cracking pie.
Side dishes at Myrtle
Crushed potatoes were effectively a chunky mash dotted with bittersweet herby hints. An effective side dish.
A simple green salad punched well above its weight thanks to a sprightly dressing and a dusting of punchy hazelnuts.
The soda bread deserves a special mention. Even though there was arguably never enough of it go around – just a slice or two of the stuff – it towers above the supermarket versions and indeed soda breads from some independent bakeries. The lactic tang of the wispy butter was the perfect accompaniment for the bread’s malty moreishness and almost demerara-like sweetness.
Desserts at Mytle
Rhubarb and mint panna cotta served with cinnamon doughnuts sounds like a blockbuster dessert. In reality, it was more like two so-so desserts roughly hewn together into a single so-so dessert. The panna cotta topped with rhubarb turned out to be quite pedestrian, livened up only by the punchy mint. Soft squidgy doughnuts lightly dusted with what was allegedly cinnamon were even more underwhelming.
A dark chocolate tart was far better, its richly bittersweet charms cupped by pastry that was perfectly, evenly thin. The candy-like sweetness of the orange ice cream was the perfect accompaniment, its smooth mouthfeel and refreshing quality unmarred by errant ice crystals.
Posset is often thought of as a poncey upper middle-class version of yoghurt, which is of course untrue given the different chemical reactions involved in making each. Plus, as Myrtle’s posset shows, a posset can be pert enough to (almost) stand a spoon on end. Its smooth mouthfeel carried an abundance of tart sweetness which was suitably evocative of the fruit. The blackberries were neither here nor there, but the crunchy, hearty oat biscuits were very winsome. Their qualities were drowned out by the stridently flavoured posset though, so they’re best consumed before or afterwards.
As a general rule I tend to favour small menus as they force chefs to really focus on the dishes that truly matter – which ingredients and preparations they most want to serve to diners. But that also leaves little room to hide when they misstep, even more so in a small restaurant where you don’t have the space to fall back on the ‘experience’ of glitzy décors, ebullient atmospheres and armies of waiters. That holds true for Myrtle, where duffers like the smoked salmon and the panna cotta stick out like dayglo bum bags in a Givenchy store.
But that shouldn’t detract too heavily from the elegant and artful yet deliciously satiating winners from the sirloin and boxty to the oat-crusted hake and the black pudding roll. As its menu changes month-to-month(ish), I’d very surprised indeed if the creases weren’t ironed out. There is, after all, a vision of graceful, Irish-themed dishes bursting to express itself in the kitchen, cramped dining room be damned.
Address: 1A Langton Street, Chelsea, London SW10 0JL
Phone: 020 7352 2411
Opening Hours: Tuesday 18.00-22.00; Wednesday-Saturday noon-15.00 and 18.00-22.00. Sunday noon-17.00.
Reservations? probably a good idea.
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £50-55 approx.