Having occasionally caught snatches of The Urban Chef series back in 2006, I was aware of OIiver Rowe’s project to serve food made from locally-sourced ingredents, within Greater London if possible, in his King’s Cross restaurant. I was intrigued by the idea but, whilst I didn’t dismiss it as a gimmick as did some contemporary reviews, I forgot all about it until looking for a restaurant near King’s Cross for dinner with a friend last night. Konstam fit the bill for something a little different.
Arriving in the (still slightly seedy, despite the much-hyped “up and coming” tag) locality half an hour before my reservation (and my friend), with little in the way of (open) local cafes in which to while away the time, I go into The Prince Albert early. Disappointingly, none of the tables for 2 were located near to the open kitchen (allowing a great view of the chefs at work) so I choose one across the room instead and settle down with a glass of Chegworth Valley apple juice (from Kent) and the menu.
I’m quite surprised by the small size of the dining area; it has room for just 44 covers. It gives the space quite an intimate atmosphere. The decor is, at first glance, a little overwhelming, with a somewhat dark teal paint covering floorboards, walls, ceiling and chairs too; quite a dark colour to be used so liberally. The ceilings are strung with offbeat silver chain modern chandeliers; so many they create the impression of shimmering fabric draped above. But surprisingly, the overall effect is actually quite calming. The table tops, of pale green with a pale wooden edge, are left bare and dressed simply with plain glassware, a white cloth napkin and cutlery and a pretty glass bottle with a single pale green bloom. Open shelves around the room house glassware, drinks, a collection of recipe books and numerous gigantic jars of what I assume is home-made chutney.
A note at the bottom of the menu advises that Konstam sources “over 80% of it’s produce from in & around Greater London”. The website defines that as “the area covered by the London Underground network”, which I find an agreeable way of picturing it.
By the time my friend arrives bang on time for our 7pm reservation the space is filling up fast and it becomes quite challenging to catch the eye of one of the 3 waiting staff looking after the diners. Whilst service is warm and helpful throughout, this difficulty remains throughout the evening and leads to some longer than necessary delays, particularly at the point of being able to place our order and receive our bill. Still, as we’re meeting to catch up, the lapses aren’t too frustrating.
My friend has a glass of English white wine, and later, a glass of English red, both of which she enjoys. After my apple juice I order a glass of Konstam kir pétillant made with homemade marmelade. Luckily for me, it’s made with a sweeter sparkling wine than the usual brut which suits my taste buds perfectly. I really like the idea of marmalade rather than a cordial or fruit liqueur as a base and even ask for a spoon to scoop up the alcohol soaked rind at the bottom!
And on to the food: I have the Amersham pigeon wrapped in bacon with roast onion and hazelnut salad. The pigeon is served nicely rare and, with the bacon, packs a great gamey savoury punch. The salad of onion and hazelnut with herb leaves, is a delight; I would not have thought to pair hazelnut with meat but like it very much. My friend starts with the Norbury Blue, marjoram and onion tart with cabbage and walnut salad and seems equally happy with her choice.
We both have the Charcoal grilled leg of Amersham lamb with fried potatoes, wild garlic, salt-packed Mersea sprat and white wine and rosemary sauce. When the dish arrives I wonder if the lamb’s a touch overcooked but I needn’t have worried – it’s tender and tasty. The wine and rosemary sauce works well with it. Although wild garlic has been growing in popularity over the years, I’ve somehow managed to miss it until now and am now lamenting all the time I’ve wasted. The dark green leaves have a strong metallic, mineral tang – like spinach – combined with the much loved flavour of garlic – lovely! The thin slivers of sprat seem a little superfluous but I finish them in one, salty bite. The fried potatoes are moreish and we both agree that they give the dish the welcome feel of comforting and well-executed home cooking. This is something that extends throughout the menu which is as packed with wonderful flavours, as one would expect from a good restaurant, without resorting to ostentatious techniques and showy presentation.
Neither of us can resist the Lavender and mamalade ice-creams & brandy snap which are as delicious as they sound. Neither are overly sweet, which the marmalade ice-cream in particular benefits from. The lavender ice-cream is the very essence of summer. The brandy snap is delicate; my friend says it’s like lace, as she peers through a piece.
Our bill comes to £83 plus tip. Given the quality of the food we both agree we’d come again, though the walk from Angel (on my part) and King’s Cross (on my friend’s) through somewhat grotty streets is mildly offputting, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it alone in the dark. This from two women perfectly happy to walk alone through streets lined with sex shops and drinking dens in some areas of Central London. If there are 3 or 4 in your party, I’d recommend asking for table next to the kitchen work surface, if you fancy watching Rowe and his team in action.