It’s that time of the year again and time to organise our work do. I tend to go along with what everyone else wants, because I like spicy food and there are a few in our office that don’t. Even so, I was slightly disappointed when I got the menu and was asked to chose a starter, main course and dessert – everything looked very English/French, which to me usually means boring. How wrong I was.
2 Acton Street
London WC1X 9NA
Telephone: 0207 833 5040
This is about five minutes from King’s Cross station. Acton Street can be reached from Gray’s Inn Road.
The decor and layout
From the outside, the restaurant looks particularly unprepossessing. It was a pub at one time (The Prince Albert) and the outside still looks exactly like a pub, grey and dull. However, as soon as you step inside, it is another story. The first thing that I noticed was chains of silver beads draped from the ceiling in a series of chandelier-shapes. Then the walls, ceiling and floor are painted deep green. The whole effect is very striking, without being over the top.
The room itself is not particularly large, but they managed to arrange the tables in such a way that we weren’t sitting too close to anyone else. They had organised two tables of eight for us and there were also a couple of other parties of about the same size, as well as tables for two and four. The food was mainly prepared and cooked actually in the restaurant; fantastic, because you could see exactly how fresh the food was.
The toilets were downstairs, and weren’t quite in keeping with the upstairs, as often happens in London restaurants with basements, but were perfectly clean and adequate. However, they are not easily accessible for wheel-chair users or anyone with mobility problems.
The main selling point of this restaurant is that, owned by Oliver Rowe, a chef from North London, the food is sourced from areas within the six tube zones. That may not seem too surprising, until you realise that the menu includes food such as fish, ostrich and game, all of which is actually available in the London area.
We were a party of 15 and therefore had chosen our dishes in advance. We were given a choice of starters, main courses and desserts, which included: Butternut squash & chestnut soup with bacon (optional) & crme frache, Grilled Amersham pigeon breast with beetroot & orange relish, Norbury Blue, walnut, apple & chicory salad for starters; Grilled fillet of brill with greens, tarragon, capers & brown butter, Pan-roast guinea fowl with roast winter vegetables & redcurrant sauce and Roast belly of pork with red cabbage, roast potatoes & caramelised apple for the main course; and Norbury blue & Chesham goat’s cheese with Tower Hill honey & toast, Sloe gin, brandy & bramble trifle, Tart tatin with lavender cream and Elderberry ice-cream & honey snap for desserts. This was from the Christmas menu, although I understand that it changes on a regular basis.
I personally had the soup, belly of pork with cheese, honey and toast. The soup was richly creamy – probably because it was laced with cream – of just the right consistency, with a few crunchily chewy chestnuts at the bottom. The roast belly of pork was superb. It had a lot of fat in it, as belly of pork tends to have, but it was cooked beautifully and didn’t seem too rich at all. It was accompanied by roast potatoes, cooked, I suspect, in goose fat, spinach (not sure what happened to the red cabbage mentioned on our original menu, but I didn’t really care) and caramelised apple. This was one of the best roasts I have had in a long time. Finally, the cheese was divine – the Norbury blue just melted in the mouth and the goat’s cheese was all creamy goodness.
My colleagues had varying versions of the menu, but one thing that all agreed upon was the standard of the food. There was not one complaint from anyone, and believe me, a couple of my colleagues are seriously picky when it comes to food. One of them is vegetarian and chose from a slightly different menu; nevertheless, she was amply provided for.
We had a bottle (or two or three!) of both white and red and yes, it was British wine. I’m not entirely sure that it came from within the six tube zones; I know one of the wines advertised was from much further south, but I think that can be overlooked! I had white wine and can’t remember what it was called, but it was delicious and complemented the food perfectly. Most of us finished off with coffee, which was the real deal and not something from a cheap machine.
Our waiter was very young, I shouldn’t think any more than 22, but he managed our party admirably. We already had a list of who wanted what and he came round to everyone to find out our names so that food could be placed in front of us with the minimum of fuss. He actually remembered everyone’s meals correctly, which deeply impressed us. Sadly, it is many months or even years since I received such good service in a London restaurant. I really could not fault it at all. Our waiter was confident, but very polite and even had time for a joke, even when dealing with our rowdy lot. Very impressive.
This is my only qualm. Our office paid 20 pounds per head towards the meal, but we still had to pay another 26 pounds each. This did include wine, coffee and other soft drinks, but none of us particularly over-indulged (we did that later on at the pub). Having said that, I would be prepared to pay that again considering the quality of the food and the service, although maybe not for a regular occurrence.
One thing to note; we booked for a Christmas meal at 2pm in the afternoon, but the restaurant was still full with people walking in off the street. I would highly recommend booking for space in the evenings and weekends.
Without a doubt, try it. This place is pure class and provided you are prepared to pay for that, it is a fantastic option. I loved the idea of the food all being sourced locally, although the restaurant doesn’t really need a gimmick to encourage people to visit. I hope to be back very soonalthough hopefully I can persuade someone else to pay!