There are no fake palm trees or servers wearing diaphanous, gold-hued dresses at London’s Malibu Kitchen, set on the ground floor (along with seven other restaurants and bars) of The Ned, a swanky hotel and private club founded by Soho House founder Nick Jones.
The 40-seat restaurant, which opened in May, is tucked into the corner of the vast, dimly lit, pillar-laden hall, only separated from its culinary brethren by five-foot-high wood cubicles (no palm trees in sight). And during a recent visit, the attentive staff was, in fact, dressed in dark colors and no one was feigning a Southern California accent. As live jazz mixed with the cacophony of voices throughout the cavernous chamber, my dining companion and I perused the menu while sipping cocktails featuring turmeric-laced vodka and beetroot-spiked gin.
The day before, the restaurant had called to confirm my reservation, informing me of their 90-minute dining limit. While this has become the norm among trendy and upscale restaurants in England, it felt decidedly un-Californian. I was more skeptical of eating the cuisine of my home state 5,000 miles removed from its celebrated sunshine and soil. California cuisine is a culinary genre that many associate with Alice Waters and her groundbreaking Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse; it has migrated not just throughout the state, but across the country.
But Chez Panisse U.K. this is not. Instead, the menu here evokes a fictionalized California, an imagined place where restaurants from Santa Monica to Santa Cruz to Berkeley serve poke, kale salads, chia seed flatbreads and sea bream tacos, washed down with cold-pressed green juice and chased with a wheatgrass shot. If menus could speak, this one would eschew a London accent for a lot of misplaced “likes” and “literallys.” It’s enough to make Alice Waters choke on a forkful of mâche lettuce. This is a California on (organically grown and seasonal) steroids.
But look past this stereotyped approach and Malibu Kitchen can be a delicious trip. Take our first dish: zucchini flat bread. The crunch of the crust (gluten-free, made from zucchini and fennel seeds), the creamy almond paste, and the tangy tomatoes eased some of my doubts. The refreshing bite-size springs rolls, filled with raw veggies and mango, further won over my palate.
For main courses, we shared the roasted chicken, grilled and then finished in the oven; the result was tender enough to require only a pair of forks. The whole bass, splayed open to achieve a crispy exterior, had hints of turmeric and lemon lurking within its juicy interior.
The short wine list, surprisingly, only offers a few bottles from the Golden State; France, Spain, Argentina and Italy are also represented.
As our 90-minute expiration ticked by, we waited to be approached by a manager telling us it was time to go, but life went on, as servers continued to refill our water glasses, and even ask if we wanted to see the desert menu. We didn’t, but I left thinking maybe Malibu Kitchen is more Californian than I thought.
Malibu Kitchen, The Ned, 27 Poultry; 44-20-3828-2000; thened.com/restaurants/malibu-kitchen; dinner for two without drinks or tip is £50 (about $68).