london 1720

40 Maltby Street

Bermondsey, SE1

40 Maltby Street is located under the railway arches in Bermondsey, on the other side of the tracks from the St John bakery shop and the Bermondsey Beer Mile, next to Maltby Street Market. Should you momentarily forget this during your meal, the gentle rumble of trains running overhead will serve as a regular reminder.

40 Maltby Street describe their menu as “food that celebrates the produce of this island and also its proximity to the continent.” This is a perfect storm of flavour for the diner, showcasing the freshness of local produce in a wide range of dishes.

The interior is unassuming, with bare brick walls, plain wooden counters, bars and tables and wooden stools, perhaps better suited to the Peloton-pert derrières of Bermondsey’s beautiful people than a leisurely evening’s lounging. You will find the weekly-changing menu on chalkboards in the restaurant, which are photographed and posted on Instagram. The lack of printed menus is not only planet-friendly but allows the food to be hyper-seasonal; chances are these exact dishes won’t be on the menu when you visit but there will be new delights to try.

A case in point is their fritters which, like the terrine, are regulars on the menu in different guises; I ate at the restaurant several times for this review (it’s a tough life etc.) and they were always exceptional. The tomato fritters and aioli were addictive: sweet, fresh tomato flesh in a crisp batter with slightly more heft than tempura, pleasingly so given the delicate contents. They were served with gorgeous aioli – thick, creamy and a glorious deep gold – and so fresh from the fryer that our server had to warn us not to dive straight in.

Another staple amongst the small plates is the toast. On one visit this was aubergine: crunchy sourdough generously topped with a chunky aubergine puree, rich and smoky against the lactic tang of the topping. An earlier visit in late summer featured a delightful crushed pea and bacon toast, topped with a tendril of pea shoots which did triple duty as garnish, textural element and clever layering of flavour.

There seems to be no ego here, no need to overcomplicate things; just a deep understanding of, and respect for, the quality of the ingredients

The menu is designed with flexibility, to function as tapas, sharing plates or a classic three-course format. This works well, as 40 Maltby St is a wine shop/bar as well as a restaurant, with bottles labelled with separate drink-in or take-home prices. Apart from the obvious advantage of being able to buy a bottle of the wine you enjoyed with your meal to go, this means that friendly but expert advice is always on hand, along with the chance to try a selection of interesting wines by the glass.

I struggled to make it past the small dish sections of the menu on my visits, purely because the options were just too enticing and I ordered them all. Silky slices of raw sea bass, allowed to shine with a simple dressing of fresh tomato, marjoram and olive oil; brown shrimp quiche, still quiveringly warm, with cucumber and samphire; grilled courgettes with ricotta, basil and pine nuts. It also has the advantage of being a cost-effective way to sample the menu: toasts are usually £3-£4.50, with the small plates ranging from £5-£8. Consider a main course at around £20 – still great value, to be fair – but with the wine bar vibe, a toast and two or three small plates can easily be an hour’s worth of nibbling, without the agony of choosing just one dish.

There may, however, have been the tiniest sliver of room for dessert. Baked peach, almonds, raspberries and custard was as soothingly blissful as it sounds; the apricot and almond custard slice was equally delicious, with the most ethereally light and crispy pastry. If there is any pastry-based item at all on the menu on your visit – quiche, tart, slice, anything – seriously, just order it.

I was impressed with head chef Steve Williams’ restraint when faced with such fantastic produce. There seems to be no ego here, no need to overcomplicate things; just a deep understanding of, and respect for, the quality of the ingredients. It’s very confident cooking, recognised by 40 Maltby Street’s place at no. 38 in the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards. Service is also on point: friendly but not chummy, chatty but not intrusive, available but not omnipresent. If this sounds familiar, it may not surprise you to learn that the same team went on to set up the lovely Café Deco in Bloomsbury in late 2020.

40 Maltby Street is open from Wednesday to Saturday, with a no reservations policy. I’m generally not that bothered about this, but with a restaurant as small and as popular as this, it is singularly frustrating. In practical terms, if you want to plan to eat here, don’t have lunch and find a way to leave work early. Queue from around 5.15pm (5pm on a Friday, to be safe), and wait for the doors to open at 5.30pm when you can grab a seat and wait again for the kitchen to open at 6pm (although you can order cold dishes such as terrine or cheese to go with their excellent selection of wines). I have many fine qualities, but calmness in the face of delayed gratification is not one of them; telling, then, that I still can’t think of many places in London I’d rather go to eat.

40 Maltby Street
Food & Drink5.56
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40 Maltby Street

October 2022


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