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We Visit John Doe, West London
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We Visit John Doe, West London

Picture of Emma Cooke
Updated: 29 November 2016
Wild British produce, cooked over wood and charcoal. London’s new game restaurant, John Doe does what it says on the tin, delivering dishes of venison, duck and partridge cooked to perfection by Bertha, a smoky miracle-worker. We pay the restaurant a visit.

Named after the faceless American male (the US version of Joe Bloggs), John Doe lived up to its namesake when it launched. Hardly anyone heard of it, and only those in the know made the trek to Goldborne road to sample the delights of Bertha. Who’s Bertha, you ask? Bertha looks after the wild game its diners feast on. She makes the trek worth it; she’s the reason John Doe failed to stay anonymous, the reason everyone leaves smelling of smoke and wishing she lived in their own kitchen. In short, she’s a gloriously voluptuous, utterly unique wood-fired oven.

Bertha is the crux of John Doe’s appeal. The restaurant runs entirely without gas. Instead, everything is cooked by charcoal, or inside Bertha, who runs on fat chunks of wood, gulping out clouds of the best-smelling smoke you’ll ever have the pleasure of sniffing. The outside of the bar wishes it had an ounce of Bertha’s appeal. The effect of this is dual-sided. On one hand, every dish served comes imbued with an indescribably delicious, subtle smoky flavour. On the other, the reliance on wood makes John Doe a lesson in sustainability. All of Bertha’s fuel is sourced from renewable forests: a far more planet-friendly alternative to gas.

A sustainable alternative to traditional gas-cooking is one reason for wood-smoking. But none will ever top the number one reason. The taste. The kitchen lies completely open, so guests can worship at Bertha’s altar directly (and chit chat with the chefs). Pellet-smoked venison tartare with quail’s egg yolk is fresh yet rich, and sits perfectly atop the hunk of fired bread it comes with. The ash-roasted leeks, accompanied with a caper and tarragon vinaigrette that cuts through and balances their soft sweetness, could convert even the most ardent of leek-avoiders to avid fans. The octopus legs are reminiscent of Mediterranean barbecues on the seafront, with chickpea, aioli and hazelnut providing a beautiful backdrop. Gigantic crab legs are surprisingly enhanced by their smoky flavour addition, while the roast guinea fowl was born for smoking. Finally, the roast potatoes are the stuff of dreams. With a thick layer of crisp outer-coating and fluffy insides, they’re what duck fat potatoes should be, yet never quite are. Thoroughly worship-worthy.

Eat all of this alongside the selection of rustic wines and, unusually, an equally impressive selection of beer. An integral part of the food, literally, one of the dishes features a bird with a beer can placed in its, *ahem* derrière, the combination of beer and game is a historic one, giving new meaning to ‘dining like a king’. Here you can, actually, dine like Henry VIII. Whether wine or beer, both manage to enhance the flavours on offer, something you wouldn’t think possible. A potentially risky venture, given the lack of publicity, far-out location and unusually singular new focus on game and smoke, John Doe has managed to strike gold. Executed brilliantly, the only point this restaurant fails on is its attempts at anonymity.

John Doe, 46 Golborne Rd, London, UK, +44 208 9693 280