The concept of perfection has been tossed around since Plato’s time, when the Ancient Greek would rabbit on about his theory of Forms, luring untutored people into his cave where he’d cast shadows on the wall to explain, uh…I’ve already forgotten my first-year Philosophy modules. Nonetheless, I do understand that it’s not a fair term to apply to anyone’s creative output, as it creates an unachievable benchmark and may place a huge sense of pressure to maintain this level, which is why I’ve always refrained from giving a restaurant 10/10.
But walking back to Holland Park tube stop after enjoying one of the best meals that I’ve ever experienced, I thought, “Well if I don’t do it for this one, I never will.” So I hope that the charming team at Flat Three will forgive me for allocating an unprecedented full marks for what was in my opinion a faultless performance. I hope that I can justify this transgression throughout the following article; otherwise I’ll have to return again and again until they slip up. In fact, that sounds like the preferable option…
Once we’ve negotiated the incredibly heavy door (there’s actually a sign on it warning punters to ‘pull hard’) of the unassuming corner entrance, we descend the steps into a dimly lit and sparse-yet-tastefully decorated living room in which tables are set up and waiters circle guests with skilfully prepared plates, the tableaux soundtracked by gently upbeat classics.
We take our seats at a table that has a thin sheet of denim wrapped around the top serving as a tablecloth and admire more of these cute flourishes paced around the large space, such as the Japanese posters on the walls and the jars of pickled vegetables lining wooden shelves next to the kitchen, all of which add to the stylish, minimalist aesthetic. Stevie Nicks is softly belting out Seven Wonders through the overhead speakers, as the open kitchen provides a constant montage of chefs hard at work. Hard work is clearly something that comes naturally to the team that began this project in the owner’s Kensington flat, where they experimented with the culinary concepts that would eventually become Flat Three. Head chef Pavel Kanja became so intrigued with the plant-based ingredients from which many of the dishes are formed that he adopted the sustainable ethos into his daily life and is now a ‘vegan athlete’, currently in training for the London marathon.
My girlfriend is delighted at the notion of a vegetarian tasting menu and is even more impressed when the owner Juliana Moustakas informs her that tonight’s meal will be plant-based vegan (denoted as PB 7 on the menu). I play the role of carnivore and choose the meat option, the happiest of everyone as I’m safe in the knowledge that I can have a bite of each of her dishes without any concerns of quid pro quo (every relationship needs a healthy balance). Let’s begin.
A carafe of white Burgundy is served in elegant glasses that are thinner than air and a true pleasure to sup from; the wine ain’t half bad too, the ripe, apricot notes pairing just as well with fish and vegetable dishes alike. When facing a 7-course tasting menu, it’s prudent to eschew the bread…unless of course it’s a slice of fried mochi that’s crisped exterior breaks off to reveal a soft, doughy inside that absorbs the accompanying green ponzu and mustard dip. Wrapped in Japanese newspaper, this is far from your average granary bun and butter.
A plate of succulent turbot cubes is then set in front of me, marinated in yuzu and sweet soy, the peppery cress garnish lending a spicy tang to the firm jelly-like fish dish. On the other side of the table lies a collection of oshitashi in a light (but garlic-heavy) sauce, the earthy intensity of the verdant vegetables balanced out by the musty spice of the dressing.
A wagyu sashimi is about 80% fat and sprinkled with kernels of brown rice ponzu that detonate with the all the smoky intensity of a November 5th bonfire; with a caramel sweetness to the sauce, this plate-licker is a gift that keeps giving. My girlfriend is having raptures of her own over the fermented cabbage and French onion dashi that is both texturally fascinating and tastes stop-the-clocks good, with a potent aftertaste that seems as if it will go on for days.
The rest of my meal includes a gigantic scallop, halved and seared with a herb-peppered crust married with a generous flash of sea purslane (me neither) lending a citric intensity, followed by a poached sea bass resting in a miso soup-type broth, its skin so tender it was like cutting butter. The main course of spring lamb rump is encircled in a carrot jus that matches the meat’s sweet crust perfectly, the dollop of almond tofu adding a curiously tangy undertone.
On the other side of the table, a bowl of Alexanders (wild plant, similar to asparagus) is served two ways: a small bowl of super-smoky sea kale and smoked tofu is a playful delight, while the larger bowl contains a halved Alexander spear lying on a bed of what seems to be buckwheat groats presented in a tabbouleh-esque fashion. A plate of smoked sand carrot, miso and Cornish seaweed is so rich it reminds us of venison, while a ‘pasta’ dish of king cabbage, gochujang and linseed noodles is artfully constructed into a delicate tower which our waiter dutifully destroys when he pours basil oil over it and mixes it together with a wooden fork and spoon. It’s sprinkled with cauliflower flakes that have the same umami content as Parmesan and explode appropriately on our palates with a reassuring tang. Our main courses are accompanied by a Californian Pinot Noir that’s soft, subtle and basically everything that a Pinot Noir should be.
Our menus align for a pre-dessert of bergamot sorbet, which is cold and bitter (I make the ‘that’s how I like my women’ joke which goes down a storm) and served with apple granite and stewed rhubarb, the perfect palate cleanser for one of the most adventurous desserts I’ve ever faced. The chocolate cake that’s set in front of me is paired with dandelion coffee and, uh, porcini mushrooms…you’ll have to take my word for this flavour pairing working, as even I wasn’t convinced until the first bite. Equally bonkers-sounding is the tofu sorbet with a pomegranate reduction; both accompanied by non-alcoholic digestifs created in the kitchen (soured birch sap and Bramley apple with sage, thank you very much).
As a final amuse-bouche, we’re treated to a chickpea marshmallow doused in lemon-tinged olive oil, which is better than any candied version of the sweet and accompanied by a steaming glass of artichoke tea. We bid the team farewell and make a vow to not only return as soon as our schedules (and wallets) allow, but also spread the word of arguably the finest dining experience available in London right now.
OK, so I’ve gushed and gushed and I understand that not everyone will be as wowed as I was by the meal; tofu and mushrooms can be a hard sell even before you start putting them in desserts, and the prices could be seen as in the realm of prohibitive as opposed to ‘special treat’. But with a heavy focus on sustainability (all ingredients are seasonally-based and farmed, foraged and fermented in Britain), an undeniable sense of culinary curiosity and a brimming passion for serving extraordinary food, Flat Three deserves at least to be considered for entry into the pantheon of the city’s greats.
For me, I’m happy to defend my 10/10 mark and I’ll lean on another quote that I can just about salvage from the memory wreckage of my days as an intoxicated, pretentious Philosophy undergraduate (are there any other types?), this time from Plato’s student, Aristotle, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” If only I’d applied Flat Three’s pleasurable work ethos into my university studies, I’d have walked out with a first. (I most certainly did not walk out with a first.)
Flat Three, 120-122 Holland Park Avenue, London, W11 4UA
Tel: +44 (0)207 792 8987
The restaurant is a five-minute walk from Holland Park station on the Central Line and is open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday from 6:00pm to 9:30pm and on Friday and Saturday for lunch from midday to 2:30pm. They are closed on Sunday and Monday.
Type of Restaurant: Japanese Fusion Fine Dining
“Genuinely outstanding and truly innovative, Flat Three both charms and challenges any guests bold enough to cross its threshold.”
Price Band: Expensive
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of Flat Three