Saturday 25 January 2014

Kench and Bibesy: they are at least trying

What do you say to someone who has tried their very, very best, but just not quite reached whichever pinnacle they had set their sights on? The Olympic sprinter who, after training for four years, all those early mornings, sweat and tears, gets knocked out in the semi-final after having been paired in race full of Jamaicans.  Do you say, try, try again - take a leaf from that man Robert the Bruce and his eight legged friend? Or do you just smile, say well done, but you're just never going to be able to quite do what they do - you can't match the Jamaicans: the Clove Club, the Beagles, the Ten Bells of this world.

Kench and Bibesy is the new(ish) place from the people behind The Evans and Peel Detective Agency in Earls Court - a prohibition era style bar where you need an "appointment with a detective" to get a seat. I've not made the schlep over London to get there, but it sounds fun. The prohibition-era vibe continues with Kench. Downstairs, behind a secret wall (the waitress will show you if you ask nicely), is a great little bar. We settled on a Oenological Manhattan, made with wine tannin infused rye whisky, and a Lapland Collins, a heady mix of Kamm and Sons (that darling of the London drink scene) with Cloudberry Liquor. Expertly made, served with a smile and a promise of a refund if we didn't like them, a Jamaican one, two three, was looking unlikely.  Kench was coming up on the inside.

And so, with a warm glow from the cocktails, we made our way back upstairs to the restaurant, a slice of Soho in Smithfields (in a good way). But this is where those pesky Jamaicans starting having their way - it became clear that Kench and Bibesy was going to be the eternal semi-finalist. Silly names aside (Bellypops; Return of the Tail!?!) the menu reads like Isaac McHale has had his grubby (but rather clever) little hands all over this place: rare breed carrots, sorrel hollandaise, buttermilk and black pepper - it's straight out of the Clove Club. But the problem is, he hasn't. It is not that wizard Isaac behind the stove, it is someone who has been to one of his restaurants, who can cook rather well, but gets a little too carried away.

The carrots

Take the "Pigeon, Fancier": what comes is perfectly cooked pigeon breast, nicely pink. But alongside it is chocolate barley.  Now pigeon (and venison for that matter) can work with a dusting of cocoa - the bitter cocoa and minerally meat combine well. Chocolate barley does not work, no matter how nicely you cook the pigeon breast that goes along with it.

And so it continued, slow cooked ox tail was what it said, but the potato was plain and the pickled grapes plain weird. Jerusalem artichoke and truffle pate was pungent stuff, a bite was nice, two too much - the spelt crackers were excellent though.

Much, much better was the Scotch egg, perfectly crispy with gooey yolk - one of the finest around, made even better by being offered as a buy two get one free. Yes, we had three Scotch eggs. Oh dear...

So what to make of Kench and Bibesy? A lot of effort has gone into this place, many hours of thought, days of planning. Drinks-wise it is on the podium, and that is not said lightly. It blows the original cocktail pioneers nearby, such as the Worship Street Whistling Shop, out of the water - it reminded me of the drinks served up at Viajante's ever so clever cocktail bar (no mean feat!). And there is endeavour in the food. Chef Michael Harrison is trying something - he did not take the easy route and serve steaks in the heart of the Capital's meat market. That is to be applauded, and, do you know what, he is not far off. A little less adventure (not something I would ever normally say), and this place could be very good indeed. Sadly, at the moment, it just didn't quite work for me. I'll definitely be back for cocktails and Scotch eggs though.

Square Meal
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