Tuesday, 12 May 2015
Craft, Greenwich Peninsula
It has taken me a long time to get around to eating Stevie Parle's food, or at least making a proper meal of it. Waaay back in the day a group of bloggers were invited to the Dock Kitchen by the Observer, and I think I liked most of what we ate, but it was a joint thing with Thomasina Miers and wasn't really reviewable. Then more recently I went back for a special offal evening curated by Anissa Helou, which was lovely but again not a Parle menu. And I believe the food at his 2nd restaurant Rotorino is very good, except thanks to the involvement of Jonathan Downey (see paragraph 11), I couldn't go there either.
Which brings us to Craft, not involving anyone likely to send the boys round (I'm assured), and brand-spanking new just next to the O2. But don't let the location put you off; it's a beautiful building despite the main view being of London's biggest white elephant- sorry, dome, and it's so far removed from the truly diabolical collection of what I can only loosely call restaurants inside the main building (Frankie & Benny's, Garfunkel's, Las Iguanas, Harvester; it's like satan himself created a food court) it's a beacon of warmth and hope in this otherwise fairly depressing corner of town.
Things got off to a great start with the house breads. Most restaurants would have been more than satisfied to serve a fantastic moist sourdough alone, but Craft trumped that with a quite wonderful flatbread, piping hot straight out of the tandoor oven; like a naan only more delicate, less greasy. This was as moreish as almost any house bread I've had in recent weeks, really was top stuff.
The rest of the menu certainly had its highlights, but confusion reigned initially over the difference between a "snack" and a "starter" as neither on paper nor in reality was it very clear the difference. For example, this generous - and incredibly lovely - savoury scone topped with a superbly light duck liver paté and damsons is apparently a "snack" and costs a very reasonable £4.50. I wonder how many langoustine you get for your £20 from the "starter" menu? I'll probably never know.
So back to the "snacks" and this is Pigeon Pie, for £7.50 containing a huge slab of pink breast meat, bursting with flavour, encased in golden pastry lattice. In terms of the technique and ingredients it could hardly be faulted, but on a point of practicality I really needed a sharper knife to cut through it - even the finest pigeon breast is hardly going to cut with a spoon.
I mention the prices so far because it's at this point the whole "value for money" waters started to get a little more muddied. First up, Ross chicken, broth, curd dumplings, wild garlic (wait I'm not done yet), kombucha egg, pork scratchings (still not done), and pickled alexander (OK I'm done). I'm sure a huge amount of work went into this rather experimental fusion of cuisines, but it all ended up being a bit Kitchen Sink. Which is a shame because the chicken itself was gorgeous, plump and juicy and with a subtle smoke from the open grill. It didn't need much of the rest of it, in fact I'd argue hardly any of it, even the (rather nice) broth; just give me this chicken with a bit of green and some potatoes and you'd be staring down the barrel of a perfect plate of food. And £24?
Beef was also of very good quality, but at £32 for three small pieces is even further away from value. The lovage dressing was clever, I could see what they were trying to do, highlighting the minerally notes of the beef with this metallic-tasting herb, but it still was slightly more confusing than enjoyable, and I'm afraid I didn't enjoy the lumpy bonemarrow "bread sauce" at all; it was cold, gloopy and weirdly tasteless.
A £4 bowl of leaves was never going to set the world alight, and indeed didn't, but could have been at least a bit more memorable with extra dressing and more vigorous seasoning. "Fireplace Potatoes" were great though, with a delicate crunch outside and as creamy as the finest mash within.
With two cokes and two small glasses of 5.5% mead for extra hipster points, the bill came to £102.38. Now, I think that's too much, especially given we didn't even have desserts (or technically starters either, for that matter). But on the other hand, despite some wobbles, there were some genuinely memorable dishes, and this is at least food which is trying something new, has its heart in the right place, and I'm absolutely sure isn't cynically charging way more to customers than the ingredients cost to buy and cook. Certainly not once you factor in the lavish kitchen with its tandoor ovens and charcoal spits.
So what can be done? Buy cheaper meat? Buy in cheap bread? Employ fewer staff (I have one suggestion for the cull, after being constantly interrupted by inane chat throughout the evening)? No, none of these things, I'm sure. If this is how much this kind of thing costs then fine, good luck to them, and I hope they find enough people willing to pay it. And within reason I'd count myself amongst that number; by the standards of London 2015 this is still a dynamic, beautiful and eminently enjoyable restaurant. And let's face it, by the standards of the immediate area, it's a bloody Godsend.
Stuck for dinner ideas in London? Where to Eat London is £2.99, available from all good iTunes stores.