40 Maltby Street, London SE1 3PG

- Review -

40 Maltby Street: Bring on The End Times

This whole thing about how often men think about the Roman Empire is actually small potatoes when compared to their plans and strategies concerning The End Times. Aside from blueprints for bespoke melee weaponry, a vague hodgepodge of everything gleaned from the DT lessons they didn’t bunk and extremely loose notions of agriculture, bunkers are top of the list. I suppose it’s a militarised version of The Shed; the fortress of solitude typically above ground, where power tools hang racked like an armoury, where a mini fridge packed with small beers is surrounded by the chaos of projects permanently on ‘the laterbase’.

Slotted into the arches shouldering a railway line to London Bridge is 40 Maltby Street. A semi-cylindrical roof of corrugated steel bowing onto bricks, it’s reminiscent of a bunker or indeed air raid shelter; a feeling magnified by the rolls of muffled thunder from the trains above. It's as if everything the world held dear before its collapse was stockpiled here in the hopes future generations might learn of our culture; wines from the Loire Valley, induction hobs and little winged dishes, in honour of the Old Gods of Small Plates. Hopefully, by this time, Michelin will be as thoroughly mocked as any other cult; the Funny Tyre Man’s cabal of mystery shoppers having since been hunted down and burnt at a stake fuelled by the shunned merchandise of their bloated spiritual King.

I love a place that doesn’t accept reservations. Operating somewhere between sheer luck and a requirement for the punter to do at least some of the heavy lifting when it comes to reality slaps, 40 Maltby Street like so many, denies the sort of punter I despise; the bratty Space Cadets of Resy.com. You know the sort — maybe you even are the sort — often found demanding exceptions for the breakfast menu during a blatant lunchtime rush and that’s if you’ve even turned up, let alone on time.

There's a touch of Hoppers Nighthawks as the evening goes on; a couple at the end of the bar wait patiently for a free table standing opposite the doors, remaining swaddled in scarves and coats — their frequent giggles culminating in gentle, affectionate nudging, in the way friendly cats greet one another. The single candles on each table catch glints of ceramic and smile alike and there’s an atmosphere of relief, as tense shoulders finally lower with Friday marking a reprieve from the tensions of The Outside. A pair of teachers righteously slag off their clutch of allotted shitbags who think trigonometry is somehow ‘cap’ cheers’ing with every frequent top-up, glad to be on leave from the front lines for a bit.

I Can't Believe It's Not (bread and) Butter (that you don't have to pay for)

In a move that would have food blaggers imploding with Hidden Gem Energy because they see it as a freebie rather than an intended gesture, we’re brought an unprompted plate of rye baguette and butter. The singed, jagged scoring reminiscent of a Stegosaurus’ spine crackles apart into sweetly elastic crumb, the butter staunchly salted. Soon after comes a hillock of salt cod brandade, tumbled with pot-bellied capers crossed with roasted leeks and a splay of Melba toast; a 14-tog satin splodge lumpen with salt cod, absolutely slaked with olive oil and finished with Herb of St. Rick (T. Hayward, 2023).

14-tog satin splodge lumpen with salt cod

Coyly billed as ‘raw beef, pickled chanterelles, horseradish’ is a mesh of nimbly scoopable shreds, similar to that of those little packs of smoked salmon offcuts; the greater surface area allowing each mouthful to just melt away. Circling a bullseye of horseradish cream is an exposed root system of chanterelles, the heat and acidity respectively well-bridled, whilst a glimmering pangrattato brings up the textural rear. And you’re right — this would be the ideal opportunity for an intra-meal sarnie, had I not mainlined the bread and butter already. I will never learn.

Supple bovinity

Lord, smite me

Constellated with fat is a bowl of chicken broth displaced with wedges of January King, each one an eyot on which a deep-fried chunk of crumbed pig’s head is perched, sporting a plump tiara of pickled cucumber. Sculling the near crystal-clear depths is a fat dice of swede that eats like savoury fudge, as a mottled blob of green sauce somehow stands firm against the cosy tide lapping at it, the sheer amount of dill perhaps affecting its structural integrity like the strips of wood in wattle and daub. With half the restorative properties of chicken noodle soup and pulled pork schnitzel, it almost makes me wish I were ill to feel the full benefit.


When something is described as a ‘generous portion’ I smile politely and nod because rarely is this ever true. And so arrives an elongated dish with a thigh and a third of a breast that is exceptionally well-cooked; the skin an alluring shade of caramel, creased in a way that resembles the A-roads surrounding greater Bristol. A tender, chubby puck of Dauphinoise, draped with an oozing cape of cheese sits next to blackened and braised radicchio; a fresh, vinaigrette-slicked tangle bunched beside, offsetting a richness deserving of Signet ring.

Dessert is such a pleasing blindside. Finely shredded apple, still a little crisp, is bound with glowing lemon curd that retains the nose of fresh lemon, with the appearance of a hash brown mix; the odd patch stippled from catching the heat where the mix protrudes. Much like the raw beef dish before, these shreds of apple ensure a clean bite, instead of having to nudge pieces onto the fork before shovelling it home. A spoonful of quiffed thick cream slowly dissipates like a forgotten snowman in the residual heat of the tart, tracing along the bottom unable to find a way in; a testament to the pastry skills at work here.

A pleasing blindside

All I can think about is the 1971 Box Office smash-hit, "Bedknobs and Broomsticks"

Warm little chocolate cakes? Am I made of stone? They’ve got that obsidian cocoa hit that has me pulling the tourniquet between my teeth, slapping my forearm and snarling "right here". Each one pulls apart to uncover glistening deposits of molten chocolate chips, with a glob of marmalade and whipped cream on the side that offer The Girlfriend Experience of a Jaffa Cake but in their respective parts, are superb examples of themselves. The marmalade is particularly reminiscent of my late nan, who always ensured this tightrope balance of sugar and orange peel that would taper off into ever-increasing bitterness, to which the only answer was more butter (or cream) and/or more marmalade.

Because I’m a creep and a terrible dining partner, I’ve been watching the kitchen most of the night; the two cooks pirouetting between themselves in a space no bigger than a large single room in Dalston, fortified with neatly-labelled Tupperware. But more than that, they appear, at least, to be happy; plating solidly and consistently with aplomb since the doors opened, issuing a slight, beaming head tilt once the last element is in place, as if sending each dish off to its first day of school. It’s a quiet, personal sense of satisfaction that, thanks to an open kitchen, is there for us all to see.

40 Maltby Street have sculpted a sense of homely refuge and it’s something that permeates the entire experience; it’s ever so slightly Belleville Rendezvous, as the trains rumble overhead which you soon stop noticing, having divested any cares of the outside world and poured them all into this one instead. According to scripture, The End Times should've happened at least several times over at this point as it is, so in the meantime, whilst we wait for the Magic Sky Daddies to quit stalling, I'll be in the bunker kitted out with induction hobs, Tupparware and dewy bottles of buttery Calvez Bobinet, Du Rififi à Beaulieu 2021. Go on without me — I insist.