Publiq review: seasonal, social suppers at a new neighbourhood spot
A modern restaurant in west London that’s putting its forward-thinking principles into practice
Despite living in the Czech Republic for almost a year not too long ago, it wasn’t until a recent evening in Kensington that I discovered what the country’s natural wines have to offer.
Like many other Erasmus students, I was more often found sampling Prague’s infamous tekutý chléb (liquid bread, better known as beer) than scouring the bottle list - but an evening at Publiq helped to fill in a previously overlooked gap in my eastern European education.
Tucked just around the corner from Kensington Gardens, this eatery feels as if it’s held pride of place for much longer than the almost six months its doors opened earlier this year. The intimate space is understatedly elegant, with al fresco dining on offer for those who would prefer to watch the world of west London go by.
Publiq prides itself on three core principles: people, produce and positivity. We encountered the social aspect first by joining the restaurant’s (and my) first supper club. My plus one and I were ushered to the downstairs dining room to join a group of diners eagerly-anticipating the promise of a whistle-stop tour of Czech, Hungarian, Romanian and Slovenia flavours, served over a sizable five courses.
A beetroot Kir Royale eased us into the evening, certainly the most glamorous root vegetable I’ve ever had the joy of sampling. Then to the appetiser, a polenta and burduf cheese croquette with an almost equally-sized serving of herb butter that doubles up as edible poster-paint if you, like me, are prone to making a mess from the outset of your meal. Testament to their “people” principle, the team were good natured and laughed my poor table manners off, encouraging us to get our hands dirty as the evening went on. Pretentiousness is not on the menu here, just a good, unfussy atmosphere.
Next up was a serving of charred sardines with a spiced tomato sauce and root greens. The chef, we learned, had called his mother for a reminder of her much-loved sauce recipe just that morning. By then, I believed we weren’t just being fed lines. In this dish “people” - or more specifically, the chef’s family - and “produce” converged, the latter evidenced from the use of seasonal, and perhaps less fashionable, ingredients.
At this point our wine guide for the evening introduced us to Rysak, an unusual tipple from a Southern Moravian vineyard in the Czech Republic. Half pinot noir, half pinot gris grapes, the unfiltered wine had an earthiness that put up a fair fight against the punch of the salty sardines, with both refusing to be pushed from the limelight.
Next, a dish I’d never before seen prepared in the UK, a Hungarian làngos. We smothered this deliciously doughy street food with creme friache, ladened it with sauerkraut, and I topped mine with a black pudding crumble while my pescetarian pal finished hers with fried onions. Of course more mess was made...
And then to the main event. I was presented with a huge bowl of braised lamb shoulder, while my companion enjoyed a similarly generous portion of monkfish. These were accompanied by colourful vegetables (violet potatoes were new to both of us) and a moorish gravy made straight from the pan’s juices.
One thing I did pick up from my time in Prague (other than how to ask for the bill) was that the most traditional dishes from the region often come as a serving of substance over style. Publiq doesn’t hold back on its portion size, but the flavour-finesse wasn’t missing either. Capers and lemons brought an extra zing to what otherwise could be an undisputedly delicious but perhaps otherwise unexciting dish, and we agreed that our respective meat and fish was cooked beautifully too.
By this point we’d tried an orange wine, again a Czech variety, before travelling to the vineyards of Slovenia through a juicy merlot. The final on the list was the showstopper, however. Alongside a slab of rizskoch, a hearty Hungarian rice cake that the chef had studded with cherries and topped with blow-torched meringue, we sipped an iced apple wine that was very special. Sweet and fresh, it was almost a pudding by itself, though lighter than more typical dessert wines.
The team’s “positivity” principle is perhaps the trickiest of the trio to pin down, simply because it appears to underline so much of what Publiq has to offer. Diners are likely to come away with the pleasant, satisfied feeling of an evening well spent, but the team hopes the restaurant will have a beneficial impact on its local community and, beyond that, the planet too.
You only need to watch the trailers of Seaspiracy or its meatier namesake, Cowspiracy, to know that the ways in which produce is too often reared and farmed needs to turn to more environmentally-aware methods. As part of its commitment to be mindful of its impact, Publiq’s team endeavours to source its ingredients locally, celebrating producers who hold the same sustainability principles. It’s exciting to see a restaurant take up this challenge and show that environmentally-conscious cooking doesn’t mean restricting oneself.
Pop in for a cocktail, sample a selection of plates, or do as we did and let yourself in for an evening of discovery at one of the themed supper clubs. On the calendar before the end of the year are evenings focused on positive fishing as well as a menu of “wild and foraged” delights.