If this post was a letter, it’d be the type of challenging letter you begin a million times, only to tear the sheet to pieces and start over after the first few words. The type of letter that says Dear Lover, I no longer feel the same about you. Or Dear Mother, I’m leaving my secure full-time job and joining the French Foreign Legion (I don’t know about your mother, but mine would definitely struggle with that). Mine’s the letter of a dismayed food blogger; Dear Reader, it says, forgive me if you can. I went to a restaurant everyone seems to love, and can’t get myself to write a rave review.
Bumpkin had been on my list for months. I walk past it every week on my way to work, always casting coveting glances inside the windows. Every time, I catch myself thinking the same thought: why haven’t I tried it yet? What am I waiting for? The next pay rise, perhaps, or a winning lottery ticket. With an average of £25 – £30 (drinks aside) for two courses, Bumpkin’s no affair for skint pockets. So when a 50% off food promotion came about, I jumped at the chance. It’s now or never, I reasoned – and now that I’ve had my long awaited chance, I’m fairly sure it’ll be never again for me.
You see, I had high hopes for my meal. I’d perused Bumpkin’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus at length, unable to pick a favourite; everywhere I looked, I saw food I wanted to try. And then I tried that food, and left with mixed feelings: content with my decent meal, but also sorely let down, for it was a marvellous meal I’d been looking for. The difference between reality and expectations was as small as a pinch of salt; I mean that literally, for lack of flavour was the constant that accompanied me through my dinner. A damn shame, as Bumpkin’s food has enormous potential: fresh seasonal ingredients, nicely presented dishes, and generous portions to satisfy the biggest appetites are not things you come across often (at least, not all at the same time).
Here’s a fun fact: instead of a salt shaker and a pepper pot, our table was equipped with two salts. Whether it was human error or a sign of fate, it was one very lucky coincidence. I only began enjoying my spiced pumpkin soup after I grabbed the closest salt jar; however well balanced, hot without being impossibly fiery, its spicy aftertaste was all it had to show for itself. On the other hand, my partner’s BBQ baby pork ribs were soft and juicy, well seasoned with lashings of smoky sauce. I had one bite, and immediately wished I’d ordered a whole portion. Never mind, I thought, I can still look forward to the main. What could possibly go wrong with salmon wellington? One week ago, my answer would have been “absolutely nothing”. That’s no longer the case.
My salmon wellington tarnished itself with two mortal sins, the first and most shocking being the complete absence of puff pastry. Bumpkin’s salmon wellington is meant as a healthier twist on the classic recipe, with a thick egg pancake replacing the lavish outer layer of buttery pastry. An unfortunate swap, which I only discovered too late: had the menu mentioned it, I’d have changed my order straight away. Instead, I stuck with it, and set myself up for disappointment. Golden on the outside, just like perfectly cooked pastry, my pretend salmon wellington looked promising at first sight; the first forkful was quite another story. The soft, slightly grainy texture of the outer shell was no match to the puff pastry I’d been craving; its taste, or lack thereof, got me wondering what on earth I’d just bit into. Without the tiniest bit of salt to bring the flavour alive, it could have been anything. Turns out it was egg. Well, that was unexpected.
Once again, I found myself wishing I’d ordered the same thing as my partner: his steak and ale pie was much richer in taste than my main (although, as he reports, the meat could have done with a little less fat). Then again, I’d lie if I said there was nothing to save. The salmon fillet was tender and cooked to perfection; a layer of crispy pastry would have worked a treat with it. The sides were much more flavourful than the insipid main course: I enjoyed the salty samphire and loved the angels on horseback – or, in plain speak, oysters rolled in bacon (HELL YES). My very first experience with oysters, and certainly not the last, if this is anything to go by.
So there you have it: I enjoyed my meal, but not as much as I’d hoped. My enjoyment had more to do with Bumpkin’s atmosphere than it had with the food; as I leant back on my seat after the last course, I felt comfortable to the point I struggled to get up and leave. I might not return, but if you’re looking for a hearty, unadventurous meal in a relaxed, intimate setting, you might enjoy Bumpkin more than I did. Just make sure you book your visit before the end of January, so you can enjoy the 50% off promotion too.
Bumpkin Notting Hill
209 Westbourne Park Road
London, W11 1EA
(nearest tube station: Westbourne Park)
Open 5pm – 11pm Tuesday to Thursday, 11am – late on Fridays, 9am – late on weekends. Closed Mondays.
50% off food until 31 January 2015 – visit http://bumpkinuk.com/ to book.