The late, unlamented Cactus Blue stood on the Fulham Road as a testament to rugby shirt-wearing, blaring Hooray Henrys and Henriettas, knocking back mediocre cocktails and chewy overcooked burgers with moneyed aplomb. If it was an unimpressive institution, it nevertheless occupied a prime piece of Kensington real estate, and the opportunity for a proper, grown-up restaurant to open here was a tempting one.
Now, in the shape of the prosaically but accurately named Eighty-Six, such a restaurant exists. The first thing that grabs you when you walk in is the impressive room, designed by LSM (who were also responsible for Galvin La Chapelle’s mix of classicism and modernity). In its mixture of baroque and faintly rococo decor, classically English cuisine and temptingly decadent downstairs cocktail bar, it’s clearly designed to be a destination spot for the well-heeled gourmands of the area, but the quality of the setting and surroundings are sufficiently upmarket and alluring to attract punters from considerably further than SW postcodes.
The food is overseen by Mark Broadbent, ex-head chef of Bluebird, and it’s a refreshing mixture of English traditionalism with continental class. Starters range from Irish smoked eel with Cheltenham (!) beetroot jelly, or the slightly more exotic burrata di puglia mozzarella cheese with vine tomatoes and crostini. Main courses are designed to satisfy carnivores; Tournedos Rossini combines rib eye steak and foie gras to artery-hardening but enormously satisfying effect, and black faced lamb hot pot, helpfully with postcode provided as proof of provenance, strikes a fine and effective balance between haute cuisine and the pleasingly traditional. Puddings are of the old school (treacle tart, chocolate mousse etc) but none the worse for that.
A well-chosen wine list features everything from a more than drinkable 2010 South African Chenin Blanc as the house selection to some more serious options, such as a range of 1986 vintages that include Chateau Palmer and Chateau Mouton Rotschild, which are sensibly priced for those with deep pockets and a keen appreciation of fine wine. A pre or post-dinner cocktail is a splendid idea as well, with a particularly vibrant ‘winter warmer’ proving ample relief on a cold November night.
It’s early days of course, but all the odds point to Eighty-Six remaining a grand success. Let’s hope that the Cactus Blue clientele don’t attempt to return, as they, alone, are likely to be disappointed. The rest of us have plenty to celebrate.
86 Fulham Road, SW3. www.86restaurant.co.uk