KONSTAM: GOOD SOURCING, BAD SAUCING
For nearly three years, Konstam at The Prince Albert has been offering meals from ingredients primarily sourced within the M25. For almost as long DH have avoided it, not because there is anything wrong with the philosophy but mainly because, whenever we have considered going, there was never anything on the menu we would want to eat.
Come a rainy Saturday evening in July and we ducked inside Konstam after lousy beer and tables full of squeaking girlies at neighbouring gastropub, The Fellow persuaded us that it was not going to be the right a place for a quiet supper. The welcome was lukewarm as if to say “we get all our stuff from within the M25, how dare you not have a reservation?” and it continued as we were shown to one table and then asked to move to another even though the room remained half filled for the duration of our stay. Customers, eh? Who needs em?
When they finally settled us at a table where we would be the least inconvenience, there was a sharp intake of breath from HP. I thought it was the effect of all the walking on his middle-aged bones until I too looked down at the menu and whispered “fuck me” in rather too loud a stage whisper.
The prices at Konstam are audaciously set with starters topping off at the £7.50 mark, main courses coming in at £17.50 and puddings knocking at the door of £8. Shortening the distance your carrots have to travel is obviously an expensive business.
The pain of the pricing could have been alleviated somewhat if the food was any good and served with a modicum of generosity, the arrival of our starters soon told us that neither of these things were likely to be a theme through the meal, where ever the ingredients came from.
My own, broad bean tart with a turnip and shallot salad was a decent beginning, with the crisp vegetables complimenting the soft, creamy insides of the tart and the excellent short pastry. I offered a piece to HP, but he was too busy staring down with disgust at his own choice, a plate of “seared” Ox tongue with beetroot remoulade and cabbage salad involving two Lilliputian slices of tongue. They had been pan fried in too much oil and slid greasily around the plate as he tried to cut into them. The quality of the meat was spot on, but the parsimony of the dish made it almost unpalatable. The accompanying sides lacked zing and the whole dish, what there was of it, would have benefited from a good squeeze of lemon.
The theme for the evening continued with the arrival of our main courses, two small, messy plates of ugly food in tiny portions. My own main dish involved chicken that was announced as coming from Waltham Abbey. Good for it, but I suspect the rest of the bird is still waddling around Essex as the piece I received was barely a whole breast, cut on the bias in that all too familiar cheffy attempt to make small portions look more generous.
The main ingredient tasted fine, but more heavy handedness with the oil did its best to disguise the fact it was taken from a decent source. The side dishes of courgettes, cabbage and a tarragon cream added little and the addition of five, yes count ‘em, five little squares of unpeeled fried potato was the restaurant equivalent of giving the customer a raised middle finger.
Across the table HP was in his own private Hell, pushing together the thin slices of meat on his plate to see if they could possible constitute the advertised pork chop. His culinary CSI carried on for a few minutes before he called over the waiter and asked the question they had obviously heard before “is this supposed to be a pork chop?” His plate was something that should never ever have been sent out of a professional kitchen. Four small slices, again cut on the bias (no one’s fooled by this anymore, guys) and covered in a grainy sauce of mustard and honey.
The waiter delegated responsibility to a young chef with the words “show him the meat” and he nervously approached HP with the tiniest pork chop I have ever seen with the slightly redundant explanation “they are not very big” to which HP replied “for £17.50 you should bring some bigger ones in from outside the M25”
They offered to cook him an extra one, and when it arrived, it just about brought the portion up to acceptable level, but again any benefit was lost in poor execution used in the cooking that rendered using decent ingredients pointless.
With desserts priced as aggressively as the rest of the meal, we decided to split a Summer pudding at £8, which turned out to be the highlight of the meal. Filled with sharp berries and served with a lovely house made yoghurt, it showed that the kitchen could knock out passable food if they turned their minds to it. Unfortunately, at £85 for two including a bottle of wine, they chances of us ever going back to find out lean towards the highly unlikely.
Konstam’s declaration of the provenance of its ingredients means nothing if it is served with such lack of skill and absence of generosity. The sourcing of ingredients from within the M25 may be a laudable concept, but if you don’t carry it through to the simple ending of providing a good meal it becomes mere schtick and makes Konstam no more than a theme restaurant for the foodie set, where people can console themselves about a bad meal by discussing the low levels of their carbon footprint.
It is the green equivalent of Planet Hollywood and I wont be eating there again anytime soon, either.