Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Kudu Grill, Nunhead

I imagine everyone has their own idea of a perfect Saturday. Mine goes a little bit something like the following: Meet up with friends slightly too early in a half-empty pub, go on to lunch somewhere interesting, go back to slightly busier pub and then depending on how things pan out find somewhere for a cocktail.

This is how things went last Saturday, and though every stage was a joy (there really is nothing better than a half-empty pub on a weekend morning, just ask Anthony Bourdain) the highlight of the day was, as expected, a long and lavish lunch at Kudu Grill, the latest branch of South London's favourite South African themed restaurants from chef Patrick Williams (previously of the Dairy family of restaurants, another set of people who know their stuff) and Amy Corbin (yes, that one).

Set behind the discreetly darkened windows of an old Truman pub on Nunhead Lane, inside is stylishly appointed - I particularly liked the chairs - and filled with happy chatter. As you might expect from a front of house with such pedigree, everything on that side of things went perfectly from the moment we stepped inside to the moment we left. I have no doubt that the Covid- and Brexit- related staffing issues are painfully real for those responsible for managing them, but I can only say from personal experience that, quite honestly, I can't remember the last time I had a bad time with service in London. That so many front of house teams can still shine so brightly with everything else that's going on is nothing short of a miracle.

Anyway to the food. 'Snacks' are charged extra on top of the (very reasonable) £28 set menu, a very clever ruse because they all sound so attractive you're immediately tempted to order all of them. Firstly, Irish rocks dressed in a fantastic tomato dashi and topped with salmon roe, making a beautiful case for letting a kitchen's imagination run wild on the dressing of oysters.

Biltong was decent - probably not the very best I've had but certainly enjoyable. I just wish I'd been able to taste more (or indeed any) of the advertised "Kalahari" spices, and a giant lump of inedible solid fat (that's it on the left there) probably should have been removed from the bowl before it reached our table. Still, no regrets.

The potato flatbread has, I'm reliably informed, already become a bit of a must-order item at Kudu Grill. Warm from the oven, and neatly divided into quarters, it arrives coated in a healthy amount of wild garlic dressing and draped in lardo. Each one of these things would have been notable enough by themselves, but together they were knockout, a bread course of the very highest level.

I found the grilled prawns a bit perplexing. The peri peri butter dressing was very nice, kind of a South African buffalo sauce, and in theory a great match with BBQ-grilled prawns. However the idea of splitting them down the back to devein but keeping the shells on seemed particularly un-user friendly, creating a far bigger mess than necessary, and added to this they were quite overcooked meaning the dry, woody flesh was incredibly difficult to separate from the carapace. Once we'd eventually managed to finish them I was absolutely coated in bright orange sauce up to my elbows, and deciding that the postage stamp-sized bit of wet wipe they'd helpfully given us (no finger bowl) wasn't quite up to the task, squelched off to the gents to wash up.

Steak tartare was much easier to eat, and in fact much more accomplished generally. It had a lovely gentle chilli note (presumably from the Harissa) and the crispy shallots sprinkled liberally on top added a nice amount of crunch (even if my friend thought it was a bit like eating a smashed up packet of ready salted crisps).

Of course, when it came to main courses there could only ever be one winner. Or rather, two in this case because each of us couldn't bring ourselves to order anything else even for the sake of variety. So, two pork chops it was, beautifully charred from the grill but still moist and bouncy inside, and coated with a liberal amount of "monkey gland sauce", another South African speciality apparently containing over 60 ingredients best described as a kind of a BBQ chutney... thing. Very nice, anyway.

Finally, a word on the sides. "Beef fat crispy fingerlings" were lovely things indeed, seriously crunchy on the outside and smooth as purée inside. By this point we were absolutely stuffed but it's a testament to their overall desirability that I still managed to squeeze a terrifying amount of it down.

And this is charred baby gem lettuce with lemon sesame dressing, another very successful product of the live fire theme.

The bill, with plenty of booze and all those extras and sides, came to £70 each, which I consider to be something approaching a bargain. Certainly in that plush room and cossetted by excellent service it felt like somewhere that could be charging a lot more, a little slice of luxury in a part of town rapidly getting more than its fair share of great places to eat and drink. To highlight this point, in fact, after bouncing happily out of Kudu Grill we bounced over to their sister cocktail bar Smokey Kudu under the railway arches at Queens Road Peckham and enjoyed a very sophisticated cocktail served by yet more brilliantly efficient front of house. As I say, it was a Good Day.

With the dark days of lockdowns stretching wretchedly into the increasingly distant past, you'd think that soon enough the fact of being able to eat and drink out again, and to experience the whole glorious business of talented people doing things they love, would return to become the norm, just another thing to eventually take for granted. But part of me hopes that the horrid memory of having to do without these places just holds on a little bit longer, in order to fully appreciate how wonderful it is to have them back. Happy 2022.



Edesia said...

I like to believe Monkey Gland Sauce is an in joke a bit like Drop Bears "lol lets just tell them its got 60 herbs and spices haha"

Those poor, poor monkeys.

Anonymous said...

As a South African I'll step in to defend that bit of fat on the biltong. In SA, pretty much all biltong (prepackaged or purchased by weight) will come with a few fatty bits - in fact they're some people's favourite morsels!