John Doe, Kitty Fisher's and Peckham Bazaar are three very contrasting restaurants in three very different parts of London.
The former is the new incarnation of a restaurant site on Golborne Road, northern Notting Hill, long an area teeming with independent shops and restaurants and currently undergoing another renaissance.
Kitty Fisher's occupies a small corner site in Shepherd Market, just north of Piccadilly. An area that until recently had a less than salubrious reputation (Kitty Fisher was a courtesan in the 18th century), it has now been gentrified and this restaurant is a fitting addition. Peckham Bazaar occupies a corner pub that dates back to the early 20th century but whose owners now proudly serve the food and wines from South Eastern Europe.
What unites them all is their principal cooking technique, the grill. This is the first thing on view once through the door of Peckham Bazaar, along with the smoke - generated by the team of three bearded chefs - disappearing into the hood above.
The grill at Kitty Fisher's (pictured above by Alex Maguire) is squeezed into the basement of the restaurant where along the far walls are the facades of the original Georgian ovens that the new owner, Oliver Milburn, discovered once he started the renovation of this former curry house.
Over at John Doe, the blue door of the Bertha oven and grill, manufactured in south Wimbledon, gives this long narrow restaurant the air of somewhere in San Sebastian, northern Spain, although its menu proclaims 'wild British produce, cooked over wood and charcoal'.
Although grilling has long been a popular style of cooking, it has tended to be practised rather gently in many restaurants to date, merely adding the stripes to a steak or some lamb cutlets, with chefs not straying too far into outer limits of the technique. No longer. Influenced most strongly by the grilling approach of chefs from northern Spain, the spread of the Josper oven in particular, and the availability of so much more suitable wood and charcoal to impart extra flavour, chefs are now using the grill to maximise the inherent flavours of many different ingredients.
And, while it is possible to install one of these beasts in your domestic kitchen, it is probably advisable to leave this style of cooking to the professionals. Thanks to the doors on the Josper and Bertha grills, temperatures can reach 500 ºC and I could not help but notice that Mark Blatchford, the chef at John Doe, keeps a range of baseball caps hanging by the extractor so that he can try to keep at least his head slightly cool.
Leeks and onions were the first candidates to benefit from the grill. At John Doe the leeks came striped and roasted, cut into segments and under a dressing of capers, lentils and tarragon as an appetising first course. At Kitty Fisher's a small bunch of even thinner onions were served, their bottom halves a nicely charred almost-black, alongside a thick slab of ox cheek that had been slowly marinated before being finished on the grill.
Cephalopods and fish responded equally successfully. At John Doe these appeared as a first course of slices of grilled octopus interspersed with chickpeas and topped with a pungent aioli, and then as a main course of a fillet of wild sea bass, delivered that morning by Ben's Fisheries from the Essex coast, with a sauce of small shrimps, white beans and olive oil.
At Kitty Fisher's the grill was sensitively applied to a fillet of delicate lemon sole, its colour and flavours intensified by light-green fennel, segments of deep blood orange and strands of dark-green monks beard.
John Gionleka is the Albanian-born chef at Peckham Bazaar. His repertoire extends, however, across the cooking of his native country to Turkey, Greece and Iran and he is ably supported by his sommelier, Florian Siepert , who has carefully put together an unusual wine list from Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Hungary and Turkey.
Consequently, the overall flavours are even stronger and stickier. Fingers were much more effective than cutlery for relishing grilled chicken wings coated with charmoulah, the strong Middle Eastern combination of parsley, paprika and onions, and for scraping the bottom of the dish that contained a tagine of skate cheeks and blue crab. The same dissecting technique proved effective with an equally potent main course of a grilled, marinated quail topped with moutabel, spicy aubergine, and adjika, a spicy Georgian red-pepper dip.
Siepert's contribution is as fascinating. You could begin your meal in this very casual establishment with a bottle of Eduardo Miroglio's sparkling rosé from Bulgaria. But on a cold winter's night we settled for a most satisfying bottle of 2010 Alpha Estate Hedgehog Vineyard made entirely from Xinomavro grapes in Amyndeon, Macedonia, that was fine value at £40.
But while each of these restaurants share common ingredients in their grills and the enthusiasm of their staff, they each reflect their very different neighbourhoods.
John Doe has that slightly louche air of Notting Hill. Kitty Fisher's with its pale pink banquettes and simple wooden interior exudes the sense of a long-gone era. And Peckham Bazaar is yet another manifestation of this part of London that has long had many diverse attractions for the food lover.
John Doe 46 Golborne Road, London W10 5PR; tel +44 (0)20 8969 3280
Kitty Fisher's 10 Shepherd Market, London W1J 7QF; tel +44 (0)20 3302 1661
Peckham Bazaar 119 Consort Road, London SE15 3RU;tel +44 (0)7875 107471