Milk Beach, London W1: ‘Worth putting your best board shorts on for’ – restaurant review | Food

Of all the conspiracy theories you could get tangled up in, the idea that “Australia is a hoax” might well be my favourite. Its inhabitants? Merely actors. Qantas? Fictitious. You could take the deniers down to Milk Beach, a new Australian restaurant in Soho, to meet the freckled, outdoorsy staff and savour the grilled shrimp, the lamingtons and the sheer Australian-ness of it all, yet they’d only say, “This is all very convenient, but where’s the proof?”

That said, there is something about the distinct lightness of Milk Beach that presents Australia as some sort of idyllic dream world. One moment you’re on Greek Street, weaving through the bins, rats and hen parties, before a quick turn into an alleyway reveals the fresh and pretty Ilona Rose House. Here is Milk Beach, a spacious, pastel-and-pale-timber oasis helmed by calm, rested, beach-tousled staff who are seemingly just back from an afternoon ashtanga session on Bondi. Perhaps … Yes, life in the UK is cold, cruel and unyielding right now, but here at Milk Beach things are decidedly vitamin D-drenched and blissful, as if your biggest problem were overly sandy flip-flops or, at the very worst, the coffee and banana negronis not arriving swiftly enough.

‘Utterly delicious’: Milk Beach’s cured sardines with lemon thyme, smoked sun-dried tomato and buttermilk.

Restaurants are all about staging, and Milk Beach knocks it out of the park on that score. This is its second rendition, after the highly popular Queen’s Park restaurant that opened in north-west London in 2018 and quickly became known for its brunches serving the infantilising likes of soft-boiled eggs in a jar with sweet potato puree and soldiers, and Granny Elly’s banana bread with espresso cream cheese. The Soho menu is more of the same formula, a breezy flutter through Mediterranean and south-east Asian influences, but with Sydney swagger at its heart.

The menu is divided into “nibbles”, “raw”, “veggies”, “plates” and “robata”. The raw section centres around oyster “shooters”, with gin bloody marys and Jersey rock oysters served with Thai cucumber consommé. There are also very good cured silver-skinned sardines with buttermilk, all dotted with lemon thyme and smoked sun-dried tomatoes and utterly delicious. Grilled baby gem is cropping up on a lot of menus right now, possibly because it’s inexpensive and, with the application of some cheffy ingenuity, can be so much more than the sum of its parts. Here, it comes with a rich, vibrant pistachio butter that turns it into something luscious and memorable.

‘Generous, and determinedly filling’: Milk Beach’s koji marinated chicken ‘schnitty’, with fermented chilli mayonnaise and chicken salt chips.‘Generous, and determinedly filling’: Milk Beach’s koji marinated chicken ‘schnitty’, with fermented chilli mayonnaise and chicken salt chips.

While the raw courses were rather delicate, things become substantial once you’re into the “veggies” and “plates” territory; in fact, they veer on the hearty. There was a fantastic, lightly tempura-coated Szechuan aubergine karaage in which half an eggplant was deep-fried, spiced and strewn with cashews. Life is too short to tempura your own aubergine and, let’s be frank, it would all end very badly, anyway.

Very hungry people should choose the koji-marinated chicken “schnitty” (it’s just a schnitzel, so please excuse the “cute” nickname) with a good, feisty, fermented chilli mayonnaise, a generous, determinedly filling feast of breaded chicken and thick-cut chips. There’s also the diminutive-sounding prawn toast that turns out to be a fearsome, deeply sating chunk of white bloomer thickly caked in prawn goo and encrusted in sesame seeds. Stars of the show for me, however, were large prawns in a pool of pink, fermented chilli butter, lovingly prepared with their heads off, leaving you with just the plump flesh to scoop through that sauce and pop in your mouth.

‘A coconutty work of art’: Milk Beach’s lamington with morello cherry, chocolate semifreddo and coconut.‘A coconutty work of art’: Milk Beach’s lamington with morello cherry, chocolate semifreddo and coconut.

It was at this point that I realised that Milk Beach is really rather brilliant; not just a gimmicky brunch spot for people too wised up to join the queue for The Breakfast Club, and instead a living, breathing restaurant offering some of the most accomplished cooking I’ve seen in Soho for some time. British palates have never quite warmed to the lamington, that Australian favourite of chocolate-covered butter sponge rolled in desiccated coconut, but perhaps Milk Beach’s version will be the breakthrough moment, because here it’s been turned into a flouncy, whipped marshmallow, chocolate fondant, jammy, coconutty work of art; not a cake, but a bowl of pudding and easily enough to feed the two of us.

The spirit of Australia, reworked in dishes, decor and spins on classics, will perhaps not be to everyone’s taste. As Ben says to Ollie in The Thick of It, “Australia: why would I want to go there? It’s full of people in khaki, squinting.” But on a dark October evening, the service is warm and toasty, and the shrimp, martinis and pseudo-sunshine are worth putting on your best formal board shorts for and heading down to the make-believe sea.

  • Milk Beach Ilona Rose House, Manette Street, London W1, 020-4599 4271. Open Tues-Sat, 5-11pm (midnight Thurs-Sat). About £45 a head, plus drinks and service

  • The next episode in the fourth series of Grace’s Comfort Eating podcast is released on Tuesday 1 November. Listen to it here.

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