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Utah - not at all what you might expect
in the heart of Wimbledon Village

I like these small groups of restaurants that are springing up in London neighbourhoods where there is a good chance of finding a healthy local population of keen foodies. The menus vary a bit from one to another, so one can go exploring in other territories, confident that the standard will be just as high in Fulham as it is in Highgate.

With the exception of Canyon, located in Richmond-upon-Thames, this group is named after the Mid-West states Dakota, Utah, Idaho and Montana. That leaves room for expansion. Without getting too coastal and Californian, there's Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming and Colorado to look forward to. Oregon wouldn't be too out of place in Blackheath, perhaps? Or even in Battersea - the new Notting Hill!

I shouldn't think New Mexico would be a likely candidate as it has a TexMex ring about it, and that is precisely what this group is not! These restaurants are definitely French Fry and Tortilla free zones. Utah in Wimbledon Village is more Zen than anything, with its minimalist lines and sage furnishings. I liked the contrasting shaped dining areas, particularly the long table at bar height with stools where you can sit together with total strangers in refectory fashion - very sociable. Our friendly waiter observed that people either love it or hate it. I bet the foodies love it, because they adore looking at everyone else's food. Beware the predatory fork homing in on your Kingfish!

Rather than rabbit on about all the different dishes on Gavin Houghton's menu, you can get your juices going by reading it for yourselves.

The starter of pan fried soft shell crab was wonderful, with blackened flavours that must have derived from the smoked tomato sauce. The lady at the rather close next door table seemed to be most enthusiastic about her goat's cheese profiteroles which looked very spectacular. I had the scorched cuttlefish which was the best fishy starter I've eaten this century! It was one of those dishes that reminds you of a previous gastronomic experience that you've been trying to recapture for years - a sort of réchérche du temps perdu. This had the intensity of some chargrilled squid just hauled out of the Mediterranean sea in Zadar in the summer of 1976 - thank you Gavin for reminding me of it so vividly.

For her main course my guest had a Seafood Rice Cazuela, which was like a cross between a risotto and and a paella, with lots of mussels, squid and other fish. I had fig filled breast of guinea fowl which was absolutely delicious, a terrific dish. It came with a ball of stuffing that looked a bit like an onion bajia. It was made from blue corn bread and generous cubes of prosciutto and I can't wait to try making some if I can prise the recipe out of Daniel McDowell who is the exec head chef for the group. I suspect it's his recipe, since Gavin has only been at Utah for a couple weeks. Previously he was working for Anthony Demetre (who is one of my favourite and most respected chefs) at Putney Bridge Restaurant.

We drank a couple of aperatif glasses of a pleasant Pinot Blanc from Alsace, at £4 a glass (it's better value at £15 the bottle), and followed that with some white Rioja (£18) whose oaky bite was perfect with both the fishy starters and the Cazuela.

The home made ices were super, especially the mint ice cream - another thing I shall try immediately. In case you haven't read any of my reviews before, the highest praise from me is when I want to rush home and try to reproduce a dish. Then I make my students do it! If you like blancmange, try the more elevated Italian version pannacotta flavoured with a lemongrass infused syrup.

Somehow we have left Utah far away - let alone Wimbledon!

Clifford Mould - January 2000

Utah - 118a High Street, Wimbledon Village, SW19
Tel: 020 8944 1909 Fax: 020 8944 1890

Other restaurants in the group:

  • Montana - 125 Dawes Fulham SW6 020 7385 9500
  • Canyon - Riverside (nr Richmond Bridge), Surrey Tel: 0181 948 2944
  • Dakota - 127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill W11, Tel: 020 7792 9191
  • Idaho - 13 North Hill, Highgate N6, Tel: 020 8341 6633

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