A grand Kensington brasserie on the former site of Zaika (RIP); it was already firing on all cylinders on our first-week visit.
Goodness Gracious Me! Remember the TV skit where some Indians (in India) speculate on the virtues of ‘going out for an English’?
Perhaps it planted a seed in the mind of someone at the Tamarind group, as the folk from the famous Mayfair subcontinental have – for their latest outlet – decided emphatically to turn the tables on the one-time colonial masters. As if to underline the point, they’ve launched their decidedly English (or at least ‘Modern European’) new restaurant bang opposite the gates to Kensington Palace – do locations get more ‘English’?
Just in case this cultural reverse isn’t unprecedented enough (and we can’t actually think of anything similar), the group has also brought into the mix an executive chef whose CV to date has until now been almost as Italian as his name – Massimiliano Blasone.
Surely, then, this is a project which can only go one of two ways – either it will be a great and glorious metaphor for the melting pot which is 21st-century London’ or it could just end up being a car crash.
Our hopes rose as we were enthusastically welcomed into the restaurant, and sat, for some reason, at the elevated bar counter at one end of the large former banking chamber (which, to add to the ironies, formerly traded as a grand, but unrelated, Indian restaurant, Zaika).
As the predecessor establishment found, this light and airy room is difficult to lay out and decorate in a way which makes for an entirely satisfactory dining room, but the new régime seems to have made the best of it.
The staff – plentiful – showed no sign of first-week nerves, and all seemed to be willing the place to succeed. Our waiter, with what sounded like a French Caribbean lilt, contributed to the general air of amiable multiculuralism.
It’s not often a bowl of soup is a bit of a showstopper, but our courgette soup was served in a large rustic bowl bisected by a strip of quinoa and steamed vegetables that almost made us break the habit of a lifetime, and take a photograph. This is the sort of presentation they do at fancy hotels – Blasone did once cook at the Lanesborough – and it can sometimes come to the detriment of taste. Here, it did not.
Lemon sole, if not quite as ambitiously composed, was attractively presented too, but here there was perhaps the slightest feeling that presentation was taking precedence over content. No such reservations, though, about a brilliant, light chocolate cake for pudding, or the bracing espresso.
No car crash here then. Welcome to 21st century London.