On Location: Konstam at the Prince Albert (King’s Cross, London)

Update: It seems the Konstam has shut in the last couple of weeks. Sorry to hear that.

It has been a while since I wrote about a London venue, so time to change that.

Konstam at the Prince Albert looks pretty cool and does something rather cool as well. According to its website “Over 80% of the produce used in the Konstam kitchen is grown or reared within the area covered by the London tube network“. Sounds kind of fun to eat stuff that mainly comes form the area. And they are also big on the idea of slow food. And mercifully, the London Underground reaches as far out as the Essex countryside in the east and the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire in the west, so the risk that you are eating things from traffic roundabouts is hopefully quite small.

Starting off with the superficial, the restaurant looks wonderful. The inside is a lot of black, green and wood, with spectacular glass chandelier-type lights. The sombre decor combined with lots of candles gives the place quite an intimate feeling. I like to go somewhere with friends where you can feel that it’s just you. Yes, you can see other tables with other people, but you’re not really aware of them and you can’t really hear them. It’s tricky to get right (too often in London you end up sat three inches from some screeching nightmare and her equally obnoxious beau), but Konstam seemed to do it beautifully.

Before I went, I admit that I was aware of their “local” concept, and thus I was prepared for the vegetarian options to be limited. And, of course, I was right. On the night, I was unsurprised to see there were four starers and four mains, meaning there was a choice of exactly one starter and one main that I could eat. But I did not fret, as I have been to places where there was only one “choice” and I nevertheless dined very well indeed. So, while there was not much choice, I just went with that was on offer and trusted the chef. However, to make up for the limited choice in what I would eat, I made sure to take the aperitif of the day, a rather lovely strong apple wine from the West Country. Not something I would usually start a meal with, but it was delicious and a great way to start the evening.

To make up for the lack of choice, I also agonised over whether to have the veggie appetiser, in the end decided that I very much favoured bread and pickles. When it came, it was surprisingly Nordic in nature, which I loved. Bread with a touch of rye, a dill-infused yoghurt sauce and pickled green tomatoes, which managed to tread the magic line between sharp and sour on the one hand, and mellow and sweet on the other. Mine certainly looked good, and a few fellow diners expressed that they wished they had ordered what I had rather than their non-veggie options. Result!

For the starter, it was chilled cauliflower soup. Now I admit that I was well on my merry way when ordering, and did not quite appreciate that I would be getting something cold, so it came as a bit of a shock to the system. Cauliflower is a rather peculiar flavour, and while I adore is when covered in a pillowy white cream sauce crammed with very sharp cheddar or as part of an Asian curry, this just didn’t do it for me. I think it would have been rather lovely if warm, or even at room temperature, but the fact is was chilled really did kill some of the flavour in there, which was shame as I did like the pairing with the fennel.

Main course was mushroom, dill and cheese pierogi – which looked, quite hopefully, like little tortellini made from pastry. Now we will ignore the fact that any vegetarian was getting a double hit of dill with this meal, and I put my hand up as a big fan of pierogi in their various guises in European cuisine, but there was a fundamental error here. Salt. It’s obviously essential to enhance flavour, but these were just waaaaaay too salty. I checked with another vegetarian in the group, who was similarly taken aback by the saltiness of this dish. This really was a shame, as they had a great texture, and the mushroom and Tunworth cheese flavours were nice. It was just that the salt kept coming back again and again. So here is the niggle: it’s not as if there was just a little too much salt in a sauce, there was clearly too much in this batch, and I would imagine that someone must have tried at least one of them in the kitchen at some point. So either someone loves salt, I am over-sensitive, or no-one checked before serving. I would recommend that Konstam check this out, as it rather overshadowed the rest of the meal.

By the time we ordered dessert, I decided to skip it, and instead took the apple dessert wine that was on offer. As with the pre-dinner aperitif, this was a cheeky little stunner which did round off the meal beautifully.

So the big question…would I go back? As I ate the pierogi, I didn’t think I would. But thinking about it, the rest of the meal was actually pretty nice, and I didn’t actually tell the kitchen that I wasn’t happy with the level of salt in my food (albeit because the waiter was too busy flirting with another diner by discussing the Slow Food movement…). On this basis, and as we like the idea of the local food and the atmosphere, and given that I’ve checked the website a few times since and the new dishes do sound rather nice, I would be willing to give it another go. But over-salt again, and it goes on “the naughty list”.

Konstam at the Prince Albert, 2 Acton Street, London WC1X 9NA. Tel: 020 7833 5040. Tube: King’s Cross St Pancras.

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