Review: Kitchen W8, High Street Kensington – ‘It’s Surprising That Such An Accoladed-Restaurant Feels So Deliberately Casual’

By Tessa Dunthorne

3 months ago

Wizardry with game & a sense of being at home

Embrace quiet luxury. Tessa Dunthorne visits Kitchen W8 in December 2023 to review – where head chef Mark Kempson has since won an award at the BASC Eat Game Awards 2024 for his skills with game cooking.

Restaurant Review: Kitchen W8, High Street Kensington

There’s something missing at Kitchen W8. It’ll take you a moment to notice it – you arrive to a very warm space, all cosied up against the onslaught of weather just beyond the door. Wreaths are hung ahead of Christmas, and the space itself is simple, all white tableware and cloth. There is a banquette you can sink into, the room is made joyful by a wallpaper adorned by birds. So what’s missing? There’s a quiet sense of luxury to everything.

Tables and chairs at Kitchen W8

It’s the word ‘quiet’ that’s the trick. What you won’t immediately put a finger on here is an absence of noise: there is no music being played over your head, nor soundscape. In the face of a growing number of party restaurants, Kitchen W8 is striving to be a dining room that you can escape to and enjoy a meal without pressure to be your most sparkly self. It’s striving to be your local neighbourhood eatery where you can feel at home (of course, it has to be said: your neighbourhood here being High Street Kensington). 

It’s surprising that such an accoladed-restaurant feels so deliberately casual. It has retained its Michelin star for over a decade, and head Chef Mark Kempson (under the direction of co-owners Rebecca Mascerenhas and Phil Howard) achieved an Eat Game award in 2022, for his wizardry with the wild stuff. At a read of a bio, you walk into Kitchen W8 expecting a pressure to be at best behaviour, or at minimum in special occasion wear. Or to enter and the stirrings of a grown-up jazz playlist be softly present in the background. 

But, in fact, you’d walk past this dining room if you didn’t know exactly where it was. I did, the first time I visited the space in the summer, to hear about the Eat Game Awards. When I turned back around on the street, at the behest of Google Maps, I had to try to spot the sign for it, entered an unmarked door, and I was surprised by how dressed down it was – this celebrated restaurant in casual clothes. I’d only had a coffee at that point – and I had been dying to come ever since.

Christmas Menu Kitchen W8

The menu promises fresh, seasonal British produce, with a particular emphasis on game and foraged goods. The menu, much like everything else, arrives without noise. I am inspecting the table for a second, and the next it has apparated in front of me, the ghost of a waiter just vanished. And similarly so does a snack appear: spiced parsnip hummus with pickled shallots and rice cakes, followed by a still warm sourdough bread served with butter that is practically cream. The hummus is sweet and creamy and begs to fill you up. 

The starters are the first loud thing in the space. The kinds of plates that smack you around the face with the intensity of the flavour – the truffle linguine is rich and mushroomy, and – not skimping on the truffle – makes your mouth ache with umami. The carpaccio is the kind of peppery that makes your eyes water just a bit, but you’ll keep going back for more. 

And then by the time the mains arrive, it’s back to harmony and quiet. Mine is beautifully plated: a haunch of fallow deer sits atop a bed of ancient grains with a roasted pear lent propped on top, and the whole thing is slick with juice. Rumours of Mark Kempson’s skill with game are not unfounded; the deer is gently smokey throughout, with the perfect amount of bite but served rare and balanced very well by the other ingredients that sit alongside it. It’s completely non-pretentious – there is no molecular gastronomy, just good ingredients allowed to speak for themselves – and it’s among the best meat-based meals I have ever eaten. 

So, really, it’s not missing anything. It’s absolutely brilliant as it is. 

Final word: relax and enjoy a meal like it’s home-cooked, except the cook and team are widely awarded for being absolutely brilliant.