My wife loves me which is why she often invites me to things like Smother. Well, perhaps “invites” is the wrong word, she buys tickets and tells me I am coming. We could go to Komstam, she said, trying to sweeten the deal. What about that place in King’s Cross that only serves stuff from inside the M25? Konstam is that place, she said with the weariness one can only achieve by being married to me. But she was wrong! I was, in fact, thinking of Acorn House; apparently King’s Cross has two small, eco-friendly restaurants on parallel streets. I’m glad she knew about Konstam though, I had a glance at Acorn House’s menu yesterday and it is pretty uninspired. Not only that but googling for something else I came across this brilliant blog which reminded me that it is the sister restaurant of Waterhouse, a frankly rubbish restaurant down at the back of Regent’s Canal. (When I told my wife this new tidbit of information she nodded wearily and told me she knew.)
Anyway, Smother was one of those site-specific performances that is not specific enough to be more interesting than the site. Luckily it was short and Konstam was just next door. It’s full name is Konstam at the Prince Albert which is a bit silly as it gives the impression that it is a dining room above a pub when in fact they have simply gutted a small corner pub and transformed it into a restaurant. I’d heard before I went that due to the small size, number of tables and industrial decor it could be a bit oppressive but I found it quite pleasant. It is true that when we arrived the atmosphere was excessively hushed, an inevitable side effect of the small number of early diners clustered so close to the open kitchen. As soon as a few more people arrived, some candles had been lit and a bit of alcohol had been consumed it became a lot more cosy. Although not that cosy thanks to the brilliantly soft but stark design by Thomas Heatherwick, he of rolling bridge infamy. By the end of the night my wife thought the cumulative effect was a bit too much – too enveloping – but I loved it.
Usually it is my wife’s perogative to dillydally over the menu (inexplicable really since she usually only has two options). This time it was me. Skate and pork or pigeon and lamb? Whilst this conundrum rattled through my head we ordered bread and pickle of which the green tomato pickle was superb and the roast onion merely good. I then further prevaricated by grappling with the booze list. This featured an array of very tempting beers from Meantime, Westerham and Curious Brew, the Cobb IPa from the latter being the star of the evening. It is great to see restaurants taking care over their beer lists. However, I’m not convinced they’ve really got to grips with a sensible pricing structure, wine always seems to offer better value for money.
Eventually my mind was made up for me by the waiter coming over and I went for pigeon and lamb. Most times when I’ve had pigeon it was been overcooked but here it was perfect, the meat a deep wine-y red. It chimed rather nicely with the colour of my wife’s beetroot soup which had a much softer taste than I was expecting. The pigeon had been cooked on their charcoal grill and this only further whetted my appetite for my leg of lamb. It arrived exactly as I had imagined it: plump mound of barley, dash of spinach to garnish, Olympic rings of lamb lapping over each other, perfectly crustily seared on the outside and mouth-wateringly pink on the inside. I took my first mouthful… and it immediately became clear than something had gone very, very wrong. It was vile. Looking at my plate more closely, I realised I had made a school boy error: I had forgotten about the herring and nasturtium relish. Now, I had been aware of this when I ordered but I had envisaged a little dollop on the side, instead it was heaped over the lamb. I scrapped it off and tried again. It was futile, my meat had been irreparably impregnated with the taste of pickled fish. I couldn’t eat but I couldn’t send it back because it was my own damn fault. My little face was obviously a picture of woe because I had to keep telling my wife not to worry and to attend to her own plate. This consisted of a fillet of seabass which got two thumbs up but it was foolishly placed on top of the potato salad which meant it rapidly went cold.
I was not prepared to sabotage my own dinner though. Whilst the missus ordered a rhubarb tart – a bit too dense for her – I did the only sensible thing: I ordered another main course. This time I went for the pork chop that I had already hovered over and which was accompanied by nothing more threatening than a rhubarb compote (I imagine the chefs feel that just grilling meat is a little unsophisticated and therefore feel duty bound to jazz it up). It also came with roast onion & walnut spätzle. If you don’t know what that it is join the club but it turnout to be a gorgeous, silky pasta salad. With this and a mountain of pork I was simply wallowing in primal pleasure.
The bill came to £100 which even considering the second main was a bit much but then you are paying more for the principle and when this goes hand in hand with such good – if slightly repetitive (again, a feature) – cooking I am happy to do so.
The question now is where to go to lunch on Sunday? The Arthur is always tempting but fish and chips is not a Sunday lunch and, although the option of nutroast is welcome, what the fuck is “vegetarian sauce”? The menu is a bit more exciting across the way at their sister pub, The Empress Of India. The only problem is that every time we go passed my wife always reminds me of the childish strop I once throw outside it over our wedding preparations. Although that applies to half the restaurants and pubs of North-East London (Waterhouse, for example). I think, on balance, I will treat myself to The Princess Of Shoreditch since I’ve been meaning to go their for ages.