Konstam (British) – London, England (9/10)

[UPDATED: May 2009 – I was debating whether to write a revisit post about my latest visit to Konstam a week ago, but have decided against it. I’m still feeling disappointed, not in the food which was as good as on my previous two visits, but because of the incredibly slow service. The waiters were extremely polite and friendly, as they always are, but we were still waiting for our mains when tables were leaving all around us. In fact, we were having dessert when the third sitting arrived to be seated at the table behind us. I spent most of the evening slightly agitated because I had taken good friends visiting from Japan and wanted my recommended restaurant to make a good impression. No matter how often I glared across at Oliver Rowe in the open kitchen, he simply would not serve us any more quickly.

Now that my complaint is out of the way, my friends were delighted with their food, and the fact that most of the ingredients were sourced from within Greater London. Pan-fried Mersea sole with mashed potato, braised chard and thyme beurre blanc was as delicate as on previous occasions. The charcoal grilled leg of Amersham lamb with fried potatoes, wild garlic, salt-packed Mersea sprat & white wine and rosemary sauce was delicious and I loved the combination of sprats with lamb, while the husband devoured his wild garlic and nettle pierogi with breadcrumbs, sour cream & roast onions.

I’m sure I’ll return to Konstam one day, but perhaps when I’ve stopped fuming.]

ORIGINAL REVIEW BELOW:

It’s been ages since I’ve been to a restaurant that’s filled me with so much exhilaration. And the fact that it also made my sceptical vegetarian husband feel the same way made the experience even more enjoyable.

Konstam is a London restaurant that hit the headlines when its young owner and chef Oliver Rowe was the subject of BBC TV series ‘The Urban Chef‘. Cameras followed him as he tried to set up his restaurant and source all his ingredients from locations within Greater London (eg anywhere covered by the London Underground). It was rather gimmicky, and I never thought to try it out when it opened in 2006. But having been twice in the last two months, our friend has been raving about Konstam, so we went with her and another die-hard fan to see what all the fuss was about.

First impressions:

The restaurant is set in a small Victorian pub, with an open kitchen, situated where the bar used to be. The best two tables are apparently the ones by the kitchen area, where you can watch your food being prepared. I asked to be moved from one of these though, as it was too hot. The ‘chainmail’ decor was something we had laughed at when the designer came up with it on the TV series. I’m still not sure if it works, but it is unusual.

At 7pm, we were the first to arrive, but the place was soon packed with diners, some of whom were clearly regulars. There was no pressure to leave after our meal, and we stayed for over 3 hours, unheard of in most London restaurants where you’re simply allocated a time slot. I must mention the service, which was the most welcoming that I’ve come across in a long, long time. We actually felt like they wanted us to be there, and each question (mostly from me as I grilled the waiter about the origins of each ingredient) was answered in a genuinely friendly manner.

The menu changes daily, and of course according to season, depending on what ingredients can be sourced. With 5 starters, 5 mains and 6 puddings, it was still hard to choose, as everything sounded extremely appealing.

In case you want to know the source of their main ingredients (the website and menu state that over 85% of the produce comes from in and around Greater London):

Wheat from Dartford and Barnet; Flour from Ponders End Mill; Honey from London gardens and Tower Hill; Pork and lamb from Amersham; Mushrooms from East Ham, grown in polytunnels beneath the North Circular (as seen on TV); Carrots from Brick Lane; Fish from the Thames, smoked in Stratford; Beef from Harefield; Salt from Maldon; Oil – seedrape from Epping; Wild plants from all over.

Oliver Rowe wasn’t there, although our friends assured us that he is normally in the kitchen. I think he was setting up his restaurant for the upcoming Real Food Festival. But the two young chefs preparing the food looked calm, professional and efficient. And the portions were substantial indeed!

What I ordered:

Starters were:

charcoal-grilled Mersea cuttlefish with persillade (chopped parsley and garlic) – £7.50 – heavenly! I didn’t think there was cuttlefish to be found in the Thames Estuary, but I was wrong

pan-fried slip sole with chervil hollandaise – £6.50 – very delicate and light, looks like a lemon sole, but slightly smaller. Delicious and also found in the Thames

pork rillettes with pickled pear, toast & herb salad – £6.50 – like a rough pâté, very large portion and enough for two to share

Mains were:

braised lamb shoulder with baby beetroot leaf and barley of leek and mushroom – £16.50 – I’ve not eaten such flavoursome meaty meat for ages. It was so tender, it literally fell apart. I could eat this every day

pan-roast skate with fried potatoes, spinach, fried capers and garlic – £16.50 – this would have been my other choice, and hopefully it will be on the menu next time

onion, thyme and Crockhamdale tart with roast celeriac and roast garlic salad – £10.50 – the best tart ever, and that’s high praise coming from critical vegetarian husband, who was still thinking about this the next day

slow-cooked bacon with himmel and erde (literally heaven and earth – German apple and potato puree), sprouting cabbage and sour cream – £15.50 – I didn’t try this, but it looked amazing

Puddings were:

Earl Grey and orange cream pudding – £6.00 – highly recommended by our friends and now highly recommended by me! This was comfort food at its best, with a hint of Earl Grey and not that sweet at all…

strawberry jam ice cream with praline – £5.50 – unusual, with very crunchy praline

selection of London cheeses with apple and currant compote – £7.50 – a meal in itself, with thick hot toast and four types of excellent cheese

And I must mention husband’s beer – Meantime Pale Ale from Greenwich (get it?!), which he loved.

The bill came to just under £35 per person (including tip, one beer and one glass of wine). Service was not included (only added for tables of 6 or more) and ‘all tips go to staff’.

The verdict:

I can’t wait to return next month, because a monthly (even weekly) pilgrimage to Konstam is a must. It is highly, highly recommended for creative, non-pretentious dishes made from well-sourced ingredients, a wonderful, relaxed atmosphere and superb, friendly service. ‘It’s the best non-Italian, non-Asian, non-Greek restaurant that I’ve ever been to in England’, my highly critical husband commented three days after this dinner. I only wish that Konstam were my local! You can read more about my other favourite London restaurants…

A few photos from a more recent dinner at Konstam…

10 – Perfection, 9.5 – Sensational, 9 – Outstanding, 8.5 – Superb, 8 – Excellent, 7.5 – Very Good, 7 – Good, 6.5 – Above Average, 6 – Average

All the London restaurant reviews on World Foodie Guide

Contact details: Konstam at the Price Albert 2 Acton Street London WC1X 9NA Tel: 020 7833 5040 princealbert@konstam.co.uk www.konstam.co.uk

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