The Good Cook reminds me of Oxford circa 1980. Picture me: serious specs, bun, sensible shoes, short temper and students trying to pay their fines in kind·. Nah, letās not go there. Suffice to say the building where I reigned supreme as Conan the Librarian had exactly the same wood panelling as this restaurant - yet another renovated bank on Kensington High Street
The young chef, Allegra McEvedy, started off at the River Cafe before opening her own restaurant in a community centre off Portobello Road, providing great, inexpensive food in somewhat offbeat surroundings. The place had something of a cult Notting Hill Gate following but to me seemed always to smell slightly of gym shoes and the despair of Saturday night dances when the only people over five foot six were you and the janitor. Oh happy dead and buried days. Letās not go there either.
However, this new restaurant probably /is/italic/ worth going to, though only time will tell if the chefās quirky, individualistic food will survive the transplant from bohemia to Kensington - the last bastion of the artily tied headscarf. Frankly, thereās little competition. This is the Kensington Diet, simplified ö namely that you canāt find a single decent place to eat anywhere on the High Street. We usually have a side order of foot dragging, bored offspring whenever weāre shopping there which doesnāt help matters, so I was particularly interested to see The Good Cookās childrenās menu which miraculously doesnāt feature chicken nuggets. Imagine - a restaurant offering children food that hasnāt been reconstituted. I was so excited I decided to do the mummy thing and take six eight-year-old girls and a pair of in-house adolescent boys.
Yes, itās party time ö your worst nightmare ö think hell in high heels and a rubber wet suit, then double it. They squeal, they squirm; they visit the bathroom more often than a member of the Groucho Club. The argue about their seat placement, the menus and choice of drinks with an enthusiasm that would shame Michael Winner and make all parents think fondly of instantaneous death. Balloons, clumpy shoes and frock horror ö itās junior Miss World - and they all want to win.
It is to the restaurantās credit that, whilst not claiming to be especially child friendly, they treated my chattering brood with consummate charm and patience. The staff revisited several times with the breadbasket, and rather than sticking me with a huge bill for sundry cokes made several jugs of real lemonade which they replenished whenever necessary. They remained unfazed and smiled patiently when I would have screamed.
The kids chose from the Good Burger, cod and chips, chicken or vegetable stir fry and macaroni cheese ö all under a fiver. The girls all asked, predictably, for a burger ö the boys for the stir-fry and a side order of gargantuan home fries. My brave fellow mother Claire had squid with rocket and harissa which she found too all-over spicy, and I had a couple of delicious corn cakes with roast plantain. But we swapped and everybody was happy.
Not so the children.
True ö the bread was hard enough to build with, and impossible to eat unless you were the proud possessor of a fully retractable jaw and rodent-like incisors. The burgers, on the other hand, were variously; Ītoo fatā, Īwith meat in themā and, worse indictment of all, Īhad onionsā. I thought they were bloody fantastic. The best things Iāve tasted in ages. Clair and I ate two, and the boys had the rest. Iād happily dine from the childrenās at menu any time.
The sad truth is that you can lead a kid to junk-free food but you canāt make them like it. As for the chicken stir-fry ö well it arrived tepid and too fiery for the palate of most children. Even Bob, flyweight champion chilli eater, who lacks only the ability to down ten pints of lager to elevate him to the heavy-weight league, found it unnecessarily hot. Furthermore, it smacked suspiciously of satay which, in these allergy sensitive times, is enough to send any mother screaming for nut-free labelling on the menu.
Claire and I followed with fish stew with rosemary and anchovy aioli which, after leftover burgers, we suddenly didnāt fancy. The girls were leaping about like spawning trout and all I really wanted was intravenous Class A drugs, or at the very least, alcohol. Nevertheless within moments of it arriving at the table, and despite there being more shells than fish in the bowl, we were mopping up the broth with bread, chunky fried potatoes and even fingers. The anchovy aioli provided the kind of hit that rich women pay doctors in Harley Street to administer and the fish, though relatively scant, was delectable.
Magentaās mother arrived (the girlsā names have worked their way round the spectrum until the class list reads like the colour wheel), announced she was on a fast, but inhaled and pronounced the dish wonderful. The Kensington stamp of approval. What more do you want?
For pudding, I had a vodka martini - next the girls were having what they call a slumber party.
I just call it purgatory.