Reading my erstwhile colleague Catherine McCabe’s review of The Parlour, it was clear how much the food left an impression on her. The soda bread, the smoked salmon, the marshmallow wagon wheel… and the McDonalds inspired dishes? ‘Yes some of the menu is inspired by McDonalds,’ nods the man behind the ideas, Jesse Dunford Wood. ‘The Chicken Kiev comes with a hash brown and was inspired by McDonalds’ breakfast. Then there’s the Popcorn chicken, which was inspired by KFC.’
That’s not quite the norm when looking at London’s finest restaurants, but then again Jesse is a quirky find. Brazilian-born, English raised, Jesse had a stint working in Australia after his schooling, before returning to London to work at Le Gavroche with Michel Roux Jr. He moved on to Kensington Place, working under Rowley Leigh, before heading across to America, coming back again to open a restaurant with Oliver Peyton in the National Gallery, and then going on to revamp the food at The Mall Tavern in Notting Hill before taking sole control of Parlour. Not bad for someone in their mid 30s.
‘Being a chef is like being a magpie,’ he reflects on his much travelled route to Kensal Rise’s Parlour. ‘You steal, beg and borrow ideas from wherever you find them, and then make them your own.’ On his style of food, he remarks: ‘It is a different approach on everyday food, always leaving a bit of mystery about each dish. Dishes are often turned on their head, making it more exciting and memorable.’
Parlour is living proof of such an approach. He’s only been in charge for six months – ‘Independence is a wonderful and liberating thing,’ he says on striking out on his own – but his foodie philosophy is clear to see. The menu evolves on a daily basis, sometimes even during the day itself, and there’s everything you could imagine on offer, from a hearty breakfast to start your day through to a pudding menu to die for. ‘Inspirations are often from childhood memories,’ he says when the subject turns to creating a menu, ‘but also what’s in season as well as popular culture and British quirkiness. Some of the signature dishes have come from the previous business – such as Cow Pie and the Chicken Kyiv – but new ones are in keeping within our remit of British familiar: nostalgic, seasonal, delicious and fun food.’
You do get a real sense of the passion Jesse feels for his latest project. There are big ideas afoot, with this interview taking place in the midst of building work going on to improve the Parlour. ‘I want people to learn something when they come here and to have an experience,’ Jesse says. ‘There is a definite personal touch. For example, with my plans for the Kitchen Table, it will be like you are eating in my dining room rather than in a restaurant. I want it to exceed expectations: undersell and over-deliver.’
Parlour has already become the latest must-visit restaurant in what’s a flourishing West London scene. ‘The West London food scene is iconic,’ Jesse ups the superlatives, ‘starting with the River Café, Kensington Place, Alistair Little in Ladbroke Grove… They are all responsible for changing British food in the 80s. Now we have the Gladwin Brothers at the Shed and Stevie Parle at Dock Kitchen, and Mikael Johnson at Hedone to name a few. I always wanted to open a restaurant in West London.’
With that ambition achieved, you do sense that Jesse has a bundle of ideas bubbling away in his creative mind. ‘You can never stop learning,’ he says on his craft. ‘Never stop reading, changing dishes… There is always something new to be discovered.’ For now, it’s all about Parlour and Jesse’s final remark reminds me of how I felt seeing the famous McDonalds’ arches when I was a kid. ‘I want to make Parlour the go-to place around the area, the beacon of quality,’ he grins wide.
5 Regent Street NW10 5LG; 020 8969 2184; parlourkensal.com