The 40-seat restaurant, which opened in May, is tucked into the corner of the vast, dimly lit, pillar-laden hall, separated from its culinary brethren only by 1.5m high wood cubicles (no palm trees in sight). During a recent visit, the attentive staff was, in fact, dressed in dark colours and no one was feigning a Southern California accent. As live jazz mixed with the cacophony of voices throughout the cavernous chamber, my dining companion and I perused the menu while sipping cocktails featuring turmeric-laced vodka and beetroot-spiked gin.
The day before, the restaurant called to confirm my reservation, informing me of its 90-minute dining limit. This has become the norm among trendy and upscale restaurants in England, but it felt un-Californian.
I was more sceptical of eating the cuisine of my hometown 8000km removed from its celebrated sunshine and soil.
California cuisine is a culinary genre that many associate with Alice Waters and her groundbreaking Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse; it has migrated not just throughout the state, but also across the country.
But Chez Panisse UK, this is not.
Instead, the menu here evokes a fictionalised California, an imagined place where restaurants from Santa Monica to Santa Cruz to Berkeley serve poke, kale salads, chia seed flatbreads and sea bream tacos, washed down with cold-pressed green juice and chased with a wheatgrass shot. If menus could speak, this one would eschew a London accent for a lot of misplaced “likes” and “literallys”. It’s enough to make Alice Waters choke on a forkful of mâche lettuce. This is a California on (organically grown and seasonal) steroids.
But look past this stereotyped approach and Malibu Kitchen can be a delicious trip.
Take our first dish: zucchini flatbread. The crunch of the crust (gluten-free, made from zucchini and fennel seeds), the creamy almond paste and the tangy tomatoes eased some of my doubts. The refreshing spring rolls, filled with raw veggies and mango, further won over my palate.
For main courses, we shared the roasted chicken, grilled and then finished in the oven; the result was tender enough to require only a pair of forks.
The whole bass, splayed open to achieve a crispy exterior, had hints of turmeric and lemon lurking within its juicy interior.
The short wine list, surprisingly, only offers a few bottles from California; France, Spain, Argentina and Italy are also represented.
As our 90-minute expiration ticked by, we waited to be approached by a manager telling us it was time to go, but life went on, as servers continued to refill our water glasses and even ask if we wanted to see the dessert menu. We didn’t, but I left thinking maybe Malibu Kitchen is more Californian than I thought. - New York Times