I RECALL WHEN I WAS SMALL
HOW I SPENT MY DAYS ALONE
As soft openings go the arrival of Corbin and King’s St Alban must rank as one of the softest. When I went for lunch today I was told that they’d been open for a couple of weeks. I’d only just heard of their opening a couple of days ago. Eager to try it out I thought a Saturday spent doing a bit of Christmas shopping followed by a leisurely lunch would be a good way to spend the day. As it turned out I only got to do the latter.
The first problem was finding the place, only a discreet sign which I missed on the first pass gave it away. So already this place was different the look-at-me Wolseley, The Ivy and the slightly more discreet J Sheekey’s. Once through the doors the interior provided more surprises with a departure from the group’s old-school norm in favour of Scandinavian 70s style with design by Stiff + Trevillion and murals by Michael Craig-Martin. Actually, it reminded me a bit of the Virgin Club lounge at Heathrow, but that is a good thing you understand.
Settling down at a well located table - and all of them are, providing for those who must be seen and those who prefer to do the seeing i.e. civilians - I sipped a glass of chilled manzanilla while nibbling on excellent plump Puglian Olives and a very good bread selection (grissini, focaccia, carta di muscisa).
The menu, an Italian/Iberian mix, is fairly short in length with descriptions that are extremely terse. This is ok, mostly, but I was caught out by the name of a couple of dishes. Happily, the staff had been well briefed (and I believe had tried all the dishes) so for instance I discovered that Lobster Fregola was that shellfish combined with a sort of couscous. All the major food groups are covered so you can start off with Joselito Gran Riserva (sic), which gets you 80g for £16.50 (which is almost retail) or some Beef Carpaccio and follow it up with Black Norfolk Pork, Rabbit Stew, Tagliata of Beef, Grilled Lamb Cutlets etc. There’s also a good choice of shellfish and something for when we go all health-consious after Christmas.
After the lamb fest of the previous evening I went for the lite-bite option with starters of Deep-fried Squid and Beef Carpaccio and followed up with the Octopus and Baby Squid Catalana (I needed this explaining as well). The squid, which had been sprinkled with some sweet paprika, was very fresh and un-rubbery but didn’t seem very deep fried. Combined with it’s little dip it was tasty but slightly underwhelming. It came in some scrunched-up greaseproof paper which I didn’t understand at all. The Black Angus Carpaccio with Truffle dressing certainly looked the part with its pretty discs and shaved parmesan but was disappointingly lacking in any depth of taste. The truffle dressing was non-existent.
So far, so ok. This, then is just another canteen for celebs where the food isn’t really the point..but hey-up what’s this ? A fantastic main course. Grilled octopus and squid which is tender and delicious with a slight smokiness combined with a fresh salad of wafer-thin slices of fennel, some apple, celery, parsley, dill, pomegranate seeds and a perfectly judged dressing. I was intrigued. How was the Octopus prepared to give it this great texture ? All was revealed when I was introduced to the chef (Francesco Mazzei) and shown round the kitchen: a Josper charcoal grill which is a sort of enclosed barbeque and of which there are only two in Britain. This bad boy doesn’t look like much but is responsible for all the char-grilling on the menu and judging by the results and what I saw does a pretty good job too. If only I could get one in my kitchen.
Since the restaurant was running an introductory 50% discount it seemed rude not to try a couple of their sweets. Both were superb: pistachio ice-cream Zabaglione Affogato was a scoop of very good ice-cream in a pool of dark Marsala; homemade fruit sorbets brought three scoops of the same that had a fantastic purity of flavour and refreshed my palate. Being in no particular hurry, a well-made double espresso and a grappa made from Albarino grapes – a new one on me - finished things nicely (of course they did).
Service was affable and efficient although the napkin test was failed quite miserably. And they didn’t care so I guess it was a studied failure. Impressive.
So there you have it. Decent food, nice atmosphere, friendly service and for those who like such things the celeb spotting potential is very good (I saw five during my lunch). Evening bookings I imagine will be hard to come by but a late or early lunch should be possible and if you go often enough you’ll become a face and get invited to C&K’s next success. Nice.