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The Kitchen Table bows out after 10 years on Mill Lane

It's Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

The Kitchen Table is changing hands. It had been up for sale for a while, and the owners Jennie Vincent and Tom Leslie found a buyer a few months ago (after an earlier offer fell through). However, it has taken a long time to finally dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s (or teas).

The Kitchen Table has a special place in many of our hearts – and stomachs. It is the ‘Central Perk’ of West Hampstead. In fact, Jennie revealed that a customer had told her recently that when she moved to West Hampstead she was not happy at all but one day she wandered into the Kitchen Table and from then on she felt at home. That customer is not alone. The Kitchen Table has been an important ingredient in the West Hampstead mix for the past ten years – it is one of those independent businesses that give the area character and which so many locals love to boast about (even if not all of them actually patronise these businesses).

To see how Jennie feels about it, here is her farewell blog post. Warning – hankies at the ready.

However, running such a people intensive business is HARD work. There is rarely day off, with the added stresses of running a small business. But through it all, Jennie, Tom and the team have kept on smiling, baking cakes, making coffee, scrambling the best eggs in the ‘hood (and crisping the second-best bacon butties in the country, as we now know), and we, the people of West Hampstead, kept on returning. At least one customer, who used to live in Kilburn (or Queen’s Park borders as she called it) but has now moved to the other side of the Heath, still comes back to the Kitchen Table for a regular brunch.

After a decade of hard work, therefore, Jennie and Tom have decide to explore new avenues. Neither of them are yet quite sure what those avenues are, but they are not short of possibilities. Jennie is thinking about staying in catering, but with a business that requires less of a commitment than running a café six days a week. Tom, who used to work for Cycle Surgery, thinks that something bicycle-related might be on the cards. Whatever they choose, I know that West Hampstead wishes them all the best.

Who will stepping into their shoes? A chap called Amir, what his plans are we don’t know, but WHL wishes him well.

So… people of Whampstead, this will be Jennie and Tom’s final Saturday, it’s the last chance for those famous brunches. Tuesday 18th will be the final day of trading and, as Jennie and Tom are incredibly grateful to their loyal customers, the KT will stay open after normal closing time for a farewell drink. If you want to pop by, please do.

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An Insight into: The Kitchen Table on Mill Lane

It’s been ten years since the Kitchen Table opened, yes ten years, and since then it’s become a firm favourite for many a local. Almost all the business is from regulars, some that move abroad but still pop by on their visits home. Having done it for ten years, Jennie Vincent and Tom Leslie are perhaps thinking about a change (anyone want to buy a thriving, well-established business?), but for the moment it’s business as usual.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

First alcohol, then love. In 1999 I was learning about wines and working in the Grog Blossom (a wine merchant on West End Lane where Nail Suite is now).  Tom, my now husband, came in to sell his bike to the owner of the shop and that’s how I got to know him. He sold a bike and gained a girlfriend. Tom was brought up here and after we married in 2003, we stayed in the area. In 2006,we took over a café in Mill Lane and had a vision of cooking and selling the food I like.

It's Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

It’s Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

What is your first memory of the area?

Years ago I used to live in Hampstead with my parents. My Dad was an inveterate walker and at weekends we would explore the area. Sometimes he would bring us down over this way and I particularly remember coming to Cotleigh and Dynham Roads, which were weird and hilly. It was all a bit run-down, but it intrigued me.

Oh yes and how can I forget – there was a burger place near West End Green called Jenny’s Burgers!

What has surprised you most about the way West Hampstead has changed?

I’m a little sad that West Hampstead feels like it is losing its individual identity and becoming more corporate. It used to be full of independents and was an interesting area with interesting things like a record shop and a jewellery shop. It’s still got some of that – a very good bike shop, the best bookshop in the world, but I’m worried that with the addition of West Hampstead Square and yet another supermarket it is losing its identity.

Mill Lane still has some of this interest. Yes, in the past 18 months a few business have closed down but each for their own good reason. Independent businesses can still afford to be here and there is a still a good selection.

Food glorious food

Food glorious food

What’s for lunch?

I never stop for lunch! For me, if I’m lucky, a cup of tea and piece of cake. In the café it’s our peak time with lots of regulars, many of whom work round here so we have a changing selection for lunch, plus there are the diehard soup fans. Also popular are breakfasts, BLTs and brownies and of course cakes are best sellers – new customers love the fact that the cakes are all home made.

Of other places I’d go, if we are going out in the evening I’ve heard good things about The Petite Corée and on Saturday it was Lily, my daughter’s, birthday so we went to Franco Manca on the Kilburn High Road.

West Hampstead in three words?

Community, ever-changing and… gossipy

Tom_Kitchen Table

Tom’s Eggsuberant about The Kitchen Table

The morning after a tantalising tasting menu at Ozz, on Lisson Grove (recommended – excellent high-level food), I realised that as wonderful as coconut water is, my hangover would need something more substantial to dampen it down. And so, off to The Kitchen Table for a rather grand breakfast.

Ferociously hungry, I quickly decided to add to my scrambled eggs on toast choice via the welcome additions of avocado (a real superfood – amazing things), field mushrooms, and beans. And from that point on, a very enjoyable start to the day was assured.

Tom_Kitchen Table

As usual, a very generous helping of eggs were in evidence, on excellent toast, with dark, meaty mushrooms and very decent beans. Avocado slices were, as anticipated, perfectly ripe, and the only quibble I could find would be with crystals of salt; I find you sometimes get too much salt on a forkful, and other times not enough (though the fact they use such salt is another sign of their attention to detail). Everything was piping hot and smile-inducing, and as ever, the place was busy and bustling.

Some roasted tomatoes arrived instead of an extra portion of eggs; without hesitation our waiter got this sorted out, and said have the tomatoes for free – a nice touch.

No need for any Saturday Kitchen egg wordplay jokes here. I’ll summarise thus: cook great food which people want to eat, be consistent, hire the right people, train them well….and customers will come back, it’s really very simple. No wonder The Kitchen Table poach so many customers from other local places these days!

Tom’s in breakfast heaven

I managed to find an excuse for a couple of West Hampstead breakfasts on a recent weekend and thought I’d briefly compare the merits of two friendly NW6 favourites.

First up, The Kitchen Table, and a nicely presented breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, baked beans and field mushrooms. The ‘Table has quite a reputation, and this was evident in the usual throng of customers. I enjoyed a satisfying plate which eased my hangover considerably; eggs folded rather than all-out scrambled, which I like, and slightly spicy beans in their own little pot. Toast, via excellent bread, was served on the side, so you could choose which elements to pile on. Breakfast should be fun, after all!

Alternatively, how about a bite in Love Food – a venue always full of warm vibes and character? I’ve been fond of their lovely crêpes for some time but, on this occasion, I grabbed an omelette with toast, plus crumpets (it sounds rather a lot, and happily, indeed it was!) Again, the toast on the side and again, very nicely cooked eggs – this was a fine omelette. They were also accommodating of Miss Fussy Spoon’s somewhat customised order (thank goodness for that!) and, even more importantly, Marmite was available.

If I had to choose which venue would come out on top for a hearty start to the day in the neighbourhood… Well, in true Masterchef “can’t pick a winner – so you both go through” mode – why not both? After all, by the time you’ve walked to LoveFood from The Kitchen Table, you’ll definitely have earned your second breakfast of the day! So grab a newspaper, settle in, and enjoy a good, long breakfast, or two, West Hampstead style.

Gather round The Kitchen Table

Did you know that The Kitchen Table on Mill Lane hosts a supper club? I didn’t, but Eugene did and he went along to April’s to see what it was like. Here’s his report:

“For those of us unfamiliar with Mill Lane, the Kitchen Table is a deli open weekdays and Saturday. Since I moved to the area, I’ve become a real fan of its home cooking. The specials on the menu change daily, the owners Jennie & Tom use high quality ingredients and the cakes are awesome. If I could, I’d eat there daily. That’s what I like about this area – you can talk to the owners of the shops, are made to feel welcome and I believe that small independents like this one are important to the social fabric as well.

Anyway, the owners decided to host a spring supper club. In Britain, we seem to have lost touch with seasonality when it comes to food, especially when supermarkets fly in their vegetables year round. This is not the case here. About 25 of us piled into the small unit, having bought in wines from Vini Vivi next door. The evening was well organised such that there was a wine suggestion for each course, both shops had cooperated to get the best out of the food.

  • Amuse: Stinging nettle bon-bons
  • Starter: Asparagus and braised chicory gratin with brioche and spenwood crust
  • Main: Anchovy & honey mustard braised loin of pork with peas, broad beans, courgette & mint and new potatoes
  • Dessert: Rhubarb and custard pannacotta with rhubarb crisps and honey lemon biscuit

There was some debate over the nettle canapés (like, what are they? Will they sting us?). However, once they were cleaned out and nobody was stung, the debate was over. With spring, asparagus comes into season. However, it was the smell of the spenwood that gave this starter away. Our table was debating what it was (cheese, obviously) – the strong smell wafted off the plate before we tucked in and complemented the softness of the asparagus.

For the main course, the pork joint was boneless, not too small and well matched with perfectly roasted potatoes. We all agreed that the sauce was buttery and smooth; it just rolled onto the tongue. Our table had 7 people on it and all plates were cleared.

Braised loin of pork

Finally pudding – I’m never a big fan of pannacotta; I like my desserts richer on the outside or more chocolatey. That said, these were great, just the right portion sizes and perfectly formed.

Overall, the evening was good fun. Service here was great, as usual, However, what makes this special is that Jennie, Tom and their team seem to like what they are doing, namely delivering a great product. If the Kitchen Table was on West End Lane or in St. Johns Wood, the standard of food would mean much higher prices. We should be feeling lucky to have it, especially with the next supper club coming up in May!”