Monday, 13 December 2010
Kopapa, Covent Garden
"Good in parts" was how the curate famously described his egg, the humour (such as it was in 1895) deriving from the fact that if any "part" of an egg is bad, the whole thing is spoiled - poor old curate was just trying to make the best of a bad situation. Ho ho ho. "Good in parts" is also a phrase that quite accurately describes a lunch I had at Kopapa, Peter Gordon's new gaff in Covent Garden, although how well the curate metaphor stretches in this situation is up for debate. A restaurant probably can be partly bad without the whole thing being ruined - one lousy dish may not necessarily spoil an entire meal, especially if there are enough interesting and tasty bites elsewhere to offset the disappointment. And with that in mind, I am happy to describe Kopapa as "good", despite one disastrous dish that never should have left the kitchen and nearly derailed the whole meal.
It being opening week, and with 50% off the food bill, there were many issues with timing it would be unfair to dwell on - I'm sure in the fullness of time everything will settle down and future guests at Kopapa will not have to wait quite so long between courses as we did. Service otherwise though was friendly if a bit elusive, and perhaps we are as much to blame as anyone for turning up as a party of eight then ordering two of everything on the tapas menu - a challenge for any restaurant, never mind one a few days old. First to arrive were three styles of New Zealand oysters, and were classic Antipodean fusion food - reading badly (oyster and miso gazpacho, oyster and sake broth) but tasting good. Padron peppers didn't look "deep fried" to me, just prepared in the traditional Spanish way, lightly salted, and were no worse for that. And a breadcrumbed chunk of butternut squash was firm inside and crunchy out, delicately spiced and served with a refreshing cucumber raita.
Chorizo beignets were surprisingly flavourless for what is normally a strong and spicy meat - perhaps it was lacking a little of the main ingredient, because a separate order of "grilled chorizo" demonstrated that there was nothing wrong with the meat itself - these were crispy and rich and moreish. Parmesan and bone marrow on toast was fantastic - silky and beefy with a good sharp blob of beetroot and horseradish to fight the fat, but a duck liver parfait was fairly one-dimensional and hardly better than anything you could buy ready made from a supermarket. There were a number of other dishes that ranged between OK and good that it would be too tedious to list here, but overall I got the impression that this was a competent kitchen cooking innovative and interesting food, the kind of thing we could do with a lot more of in London. That was, until the "steamed buns" arrived.
They were basically raw. Not just undercooked, not merely past their best, completely and utterly raw - sad, soggy sacks of claggy dough that coated the mouth like putty and tasted of nothing other than bitter flour and water. We mentioned this to a waiter, who apologised but didn't appear to take anything off the bill - a detail with the 50% off offer you may think, but even at half price these were still £2.40 and a second glance from anyone checking the food leaving the kitchen would have immediately spotted something was wrong. It wasn't just that Kopapa can't do Chinese food, either - prawn siu-mai were very nicely done, with delicate thin coatings and a firm seafood filling. So who knows what story is behind the production of those buns - all I know is they were a disaster.
Looking past the catastrophic steamed buns though, Kopapa is still a restaurant that shows promise. The bold inclusion on the tapas menu of "chickpea-battered lamb's brains" won't be everyone's cup of tea (it wasn't really mine - I tasted one in a spirit of daring adventure but the creamy, formless texture of brain still doesn't quite do it for me) but at least shows confidence, and they were cooked as well as you could cook anything that came out of a baby sheep's skull. House bread, too, was genuinely fantastic - nicely seasoned, good crusts, light and buttery inside, I'd like to think they are made in-house but if not, they have a good supplier.
Trying to get an overall impression of a place from a shaky soft opening is difficult - and possibly rather unfair - but judging from dishes such as the marrowbone toast and the oysters I would like to think Kopapa could grow into an interesting and characterful restaurant in a location - Covent Garden - hardly blessed with a surplus of such places. Nothing was mind-blowingly great, and some things were pretty awful, but at least it's not another branch of Nando's and I'll take promising and enthusiastic over predictable and anodyne any day of the week. Good luck Peter Gordon and Kopapa, then, and here's hoping, in the end, that "good in parts" is good enough.