Jesse Dunford Wood is a nutter genius.Nutter, meant in the most affectionate way – charming, daft, surprising, friendly, eccentric, lovely…
Genius, as in an exceptionally fine cooking talent.
He started his training in Scotland's The Witchery and then the Atrium before learning high-end French cooking at Michael Caines' Gidleigh Park in Devon. From there he went to Australia, working in top Sydney restaurants; He cooked French-Japanese fusion with chef Nori Sugie at VII and French at Mark Best's Marque. Back in London, Dunford Wood worked at Le Gavroche with chef Michel Roux Jr, and then as sous chef at Rowley Leigh's Kensington Place. Itchy feet must have struck again because he was then off to America, working at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago and then a couple of successful NY restaurants. Back in London once again, he teamed up with Oliver Peyton, and was the executive chef at The National Dining Rooms in The National Gallery.And now he is head chef at his own place – somewhere far more laid back and casual than most of the places where he's learned his trade. But don't let that fool you, The Mall Tavern is pretty special.
The Mall Tavern is warm, welcoming and, when we arrive on a Thursday evening, it's absolutely packed and buzzing with conversation.There are ten of us friends meeting for dinner tonight and the fact that we're about to have one of the best meals I've had in some time is all down to the lovely MiMi (of Meemalee's Kitchen) who cleverly booked us the Kitchen Table and a fixed price feast menu.
Onto the proper food…Dunford Wood's menu focuses on British food with lots of comforting classics – many of which are sadly seldom seem on menus anymore.
Instead of us making individual choices, Dunford Wood brings out lots of different dishes for us to share. With ten of us, he brings two of each dish and more dishes just keep coming and coming and coming and coming. And as quickly as we finish them, they are refilled and come again!
By the time the onslaught of starters dies down, we are pretty full. But of course, the mains are still to come.Again, the serving style is perfect for a relaxed groups of good friends – Dunford Wood serves two each of 6 different mains, randomly placing one dish in front of each of us and a few more in the centre of the table, with instructions to pass them all around. (This is not the dining experience for germ-paranoia folks!)
Mat sulks that I'm keener on Dunford Wood's smoky mash than his, but I think he quickly forgives me!It's not often that I'd travel across London for a veggie dish, but I would for this one!
Believe it or not, after all that food, there are desserts too!As with the starters, Dunford Wood serves these family-style, for sharing.
I can hardly move. Not that this stops me trying absolutely everything!
Coffee comes with Dave the cook's salted caramel "rolos".I have one of those Batchelors cup-a-soup mugs too, by the way!
Finally, our epic feast is over. We are sated.And – I'm sure you'll find this as unbelievable as I did – this fantastic meal, this amazing experience, costs us just £35 a head for the meal plus drinks. Our final bill comes to £50 a head including a tip!
In terms of food, ambience, service, experience… this has been one of the most enjoyable meals I can remember.Go! Soon!
The Mall Tavern
71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace
London W8 4RU