About Thyme is surely one of the worst-named restaurants in the country. Indeed, I’m struggling to think even of fictional eateries with worse names: Catherine of Tarragon perhaps, or Sage Advice. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a pun. Pitta the Great was a decent kebab shop; Sam & Ella’s does a fine fried breakfast. It’s more that when a restaurant is aiming for real quality in its food, the pun makes it seem worse, especially when it’s as bad a pun as About Thyme.
Anyway, I digress. About Thyme, despite its name, is a delight. From the moment you enter this odd, purple-fronted world, you could be in Spain. Or at least, you could be in not-England. Victoria fades from memory; Iberia floods into view. This is what’s known as a good thing.
The menu (which varies depending on what is available from the market) is a parade of Mediterranean classics, from lambs’ kidneys cooked in sherry, to carpaccio, via lots and lots of black pudding and garlic. The night we visited, there were a couple of rather interesting specials as well (though not so special that they won’t be on the menu at some point in the future). I had them both.
For starters, little elvers, served in a hot clay pot filled with oil and garlic. To my shame, this was the first time I’ve eaten the tiny wrigglers. They were fantastic, combining the textural hit of an extremely delicate linguine with a juicy kick that recalled good squid. And if the flavour was slightly overpowered by the sweet garlic, well, that’s not the end of the world. At £9.50, I’d certainly have it again.
We were a group of four, but only two people had starters – a disgrace, I know. Sautéed tiger prawns with Piri Piri sauce were nicely cooked and as they should be (i.e. garlicky and hot), while a decent bottle of Chenin Blanc did its job for 24 pounds.
For mains, two out of four went for Dover Sole. It was impeccably cooked, beautifully served on the bone, and bluntly accompanied by a burnt butter sauce with capers and lemon. In short, it was exactly what you want in a Dover Sole, and at £24.50, no more expensive than you’d get it in most places in London, though it was still the priciest item on the menu.
But the real star of the show was the suckling pig. It’s one of those dishes that I always order when I see it, partly because you never know when you’ll see it again, but mainly because I’m very, very greedy. The other member of our group took the same view (yes, I know, it’s not good form for a group of four to only eat two different mains). The pig was sweet (that word again), its flesh gooey and its skin that special kind of crispy/chewy that you only really get from suckling pig. From a food miles-perspective, it was naughty - the little piggies are flown over from Spain. That aside, it was pretty much ideal, offset with black pudding, crispy roast potatoes, spinach and piquillo peppers. A robust Malbec did it no harm either.
Alas, I had no room for dessert. A shame. But the coffee was cracking.
Price-wise, About Thyme is at the top end of the middle – £45 pounds or so per head for two courses and half a bottle of wine. It’s worth it, and if you’re feeling wallet-light, you could do it for about ten pounds less at a stretch. But why would you want to do that when you can have elvers followed by suckling pig?
Phil Letts' take: 7/10