Last week I wrote about how Stevie Parle’s thoroughly brilliant restaurant Craft London is being used as bait to convince people they might want to live next to the O2 Arena. This week, I’m heading up to King’s Cross, which is several life-stages ahead of north Greenwich.
Although it’s still being built, King’s Cross is held up as a triumph of “placemaking”, a blueprint for urban redevelopment across the country and beyond. Central St Martins and Google have moved in, it has a lido and a theatre and restaurants including Dishoom and the monumentally overrated Caravan. It still has a slightly uncanny, ghost-town atmosphere – everything a little too clean, a little too empty – but it’s remarkable for a place that 100 years ago was home to one of Europe’s most notorious slums (Oliver Twist was born just down the road).
The latest name to join the King’s Cross revolution is Bill Granger, an Aussie chef who two weeks ago opened his third UK outpost of a culinary empire that stretches as far as Japan, Korea and Hawaii. Granger & Co is a light, airy affair, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Pancras Square. The walls are filled with bright, abstract art, giving it the bearing of a modern hotel lobby.
Granger’s PR team has done a sterling job of ensuring that every mention of their boss is preceded with the words “self-taught”, and his food does have an air of refined home-cooking. Presentation tends towards the no nonsense: salad on one side, meat on another, sauce in a little ramekin. Plates are the receptacle of choice. A few drops of olive oil or a sprinkling of nigella seeds is as close to a garnish as you’re likely to find.
The globe-trotting menu is identical to his other London restaurants in Notting Hill and Clerkenwell – and not a million miles from those that are further afield. There are “small plates” – as opposed to starters – and “big plates”. To confuse things, some of the small plates are quite big, and some of the big plates are better suited to sharing than eating by yourself. We ordered whatever caught our eye and told them to bring it all at once.
Whipped avocado, tofu and wasabi with radishes and seed crackers was excellent; fresh and zesty and perfect for a balmy summer’s eve. Had it come as a compliment to the bread, I’d have been very impressed. But it didn’t, and indeed couldn’t have, as we weren’t offered any bread. You get what you pay for here, and what you pay for a rather exiguous serving of whipped avocado is a decidedly un-exiguous £7.50. Courgette chips, dusted in cornflour and lightly fried, were crisp and buttery, the accompanying tahini yoghurt cool and refreshing, although I’m pretty sure it would be on the “sides” section of the menu were it not also trying to justify a £7.50 price tag.
Granger has a restaurant in Seoul and a Korean influence runs through the menu (there are more Korean dishes on his King’s Cross menu than there are on his Seoul one, in fact, perhaps for fear of trying to sell snow to eskimos). There were no complaints about the magnificent kimchi, spinach and ricotta dumplings, the sharp kick of the fermented cabbage offset by the smooth, toasted chilli-oil and delicate mandu-pi (Korean dumpling wrappers). Korean fried chicken didn’t work as well; too much batter and not enough bird, and no rice syrup glaze, which is the best thing about Korean fried chicken.
A “small plate” of raw tuna and avocado poke (Hawaiian salad) was the size and price of a big plate (£15.50), but semantics aside was very good, with fat chunks of meat and a sweet, smokey soy, sesame and rice wine dressing.
The crispy duck – our sole “big dish” – served with a kitchen garden’s worth of lettuce, was well seasoned but overcooked, which is a shame, as the accompanying spring onion pancake and plum sauce were both lovely. As our detritus was being cleared we all agreed we should probably have ordered more – this is the problem with “big plate, small plate, cardboard box”-type menus: you’re never quite sure how much food is going to be involved.
Anyway, it left plenty of room for dessert, and the citrus and yuzu posset with candied almonds and raspberries didn’t disappoint – rich and tart with real depth of flavour. Nor did the baked banana and salted toffee pudding, with its perfectly browned lid giving way to creamy, molten fruit. We also ordered dark chocolate fudge petit fours, which were delicious but cost £3; in my mind petit fours are things that should just arrive, like bread, especially when you’re paying £100 (including a reasonably-priced bottle of wine) for a meal that leaves you feeling like you could probably huff a Big Mac on the way home.
Bill Granger has mastered the art of folksy cooking with an international twist, and his light, natural food leaves you feeling clean and invigorated. But there’s something clinical, maybe even cynical, about the execution that leaves me feeling a little cold.
RESTAURANT: GRANGER & CO
7 Pancras Square, N1C 4AG Tel: 020 7229 8944
Cost for two with wine: £100